In his first major diplomatic meeting with Russia, President Donald Trump not only confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin on election interference, he achieved some major diplomatic goals. According to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump and Putin got along well in their first face-to-face meeting, but the closed-door quickly turned serious.
In an off-camera press conference, Tillerson used words like “very constructive” to describe the meeting. He said the two “connected very quickly” and had “positive chemistry,” but Trump quickly got down to business.
While Tillerson and members of the Trump administration are using the kindest terms possible, it is clear Trump did not shy away from voicing displeasure on several issues. The very first issue out of Trump’s mouth was Russian meddling in the election. The New York Post reports Trump used the meeting to forcefully confront Putin.
“They had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters after the meeting wrapped up. “The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.”
The meeting, which was also attended by Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, was initially expected to last about 30 minutes.
Tillerson said he believes Trump “is rightly focused on how do we move forward from something that may be an intractable disagreement at this point.”
Putin and Trump also discussed North Korea behind closed doors in the bilateral meeting that lasted 2 hours and 16 minutes.
Trump also gained a cease-fire agreement in Syria from Putin, a major step in the two countries working together, after a strained relationship emerged after American jets bombed Syria and shot down one of their fighter jets. Tillerson said the pair “had a very lengthy discussion about other areas of Syria” that needed to be addressed. That is a polite way of saying the President insisted on more concessions.
Tillerson said not timetable had been set for a future meeting. “So many issues on the table. Good start. Relationship too important,” he said in reference to their continuing to work together.
The AP reports that the meeting went so well, even Melania Trump could not break it up.
“There was so much to talk about,” said Tillerson. “Neither one of them wanted to stop.”
He added that at one point, aides sent in first lady Melania Trump to try to wrap up the talks, but the meeting went on another hour after that, “so clearly she failed.”
Here is selected audio from Tillerson’s comments.