President Donald Trump will not have a formal sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin while the two attend a summit, the White House said Friday shortly before Trump landed in Vietnam, the fourth stop on his first official visit to Asia.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blamed scheduling conflicts on both sides for the fact that the leaders will not meet formally during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit taking place in the coastal city of Danang.
But Sanders said it was “possible” and “likely” that they could have a less formal encounter, either in Danang or later in the Philippines when Trump and Putin attend another regional conference.
“Now, they’re going to be in the same place. Are they going to bump into each other and say hello? Certainly possible and likely,” she said. “But in terms of a scheduled, formal meeting, there’s not one on the calendar and we don’t anticipate that there will be one.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had told reporters in Beijing on Thursday that there was no reason to schedule a meeting if the U.S. and Russia are unable to make significant progress on issues including Syria and Ukraine.
“The view has been if the two leaders are going to meet, is there something sufficiently substantive to talk about that would warrant a formal meeting,” he said.
Both sides have been working to reach agreement on how they hope to resolve Syria’s civil war once the Islamic State terror group is defeated. The potential understanding comes as an array of forces are near a final defeat of IS, the terrorist group that once controlled vast stretches of both Iraq and Syria.
Fighting the group is no longer top priority, shifting the focus back to Syria’s intractable conflict between Russian-backed President Bashar Assad’s government and armed rebels, to whom the U.S. lends at least rhetorical support.