Trump: Summit With Putin Off to a ‘Very, Very Good Start’

HELSINKI (AP) -
President Donald Trump participates in an expanded bilateral meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Monday. (Lehtikuva/Heikki Saukkomaa via Reuters)

President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin opened their long-awaited summit Monday with a wink and a slouch, respectively, then talked one-on-one behind closed doors for more than two hours before the American leader declared their meeting was off to a “very, very good start for everybody.”

Neither leader revealed what was discussed. But in advance of the talks, Trump listed a series of topics that did not include Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“We have not been getting along well for the last number of years,” Trump said after arriving at the Presidential Palace in Finland’s capital, where the leaders are meeting. “But I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship. … I really think the world wants to see us get along.”

Putin, for his part, said he and Trump have maintained regular contact through phone calls and meetings at international events but “the time has come to have a thorough discussion on various international problems and sensitive issues.” He added: “There are quite a few of them for us to pay attention to.”

Their opening one-on-one session was scheduled to run 90 minutes. The Russians said it lasted two hours and 10 minutes. The White House would not immediately confirm the timing.

The summit, which is being closely watched around the world, was not the first time Trump and Putin have held talks. They met on the sidelines of world leader meetings in Germany and Vietnam last year.

Addressing reporters before the one-on-one meeting, Putin struck a casual pose during Trump’s remarks, slouching in his chair with his legs wide and eyes low. He nodded along to some of Trump’s remarks before they were translated, showcasing his fluency in English. Trump leaned forward in his chair, his hands tented in front of him, and frequently glanced over at the Russian president. At one point, he shot Putin a wink. After Trump concluded his remarks, American reporters shouted several questions about whether he would bring up election meddling during his discussions with Putin.

Trump did not respond; Putin appeared to smirk.

With that, the leaders gave a quick handshake and their private meeting in the opulent Gothic Hall was underway. Just the two of them, each with a translator.

They continued the discussion with an expanded group of aides and over lunch in the Hall of Mirrors, once the emperor’s throne room. They will conclude the summit by taking questions at a joint news conference.