President Donald Trump did speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit here but the White House said it was ‘one of a number of informal conversations’ he had at a dinner for the world leaders Friday night.
Trump, Putin, and other G20 leaders – plus their spouses – attended a cultural event at the posh Teatro Colón opera house Friday evening with a dinner afterward.
It was there the two spoke, although the White House did not provide details on what the two talked about or any other leaders Trump spoke to during the evening.
At Friday night’s dinner, Melania Trump talks to Chinese President Xi Jinping, while Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan sits next to him and Vladimir Putin sits next to her; President Trump is beside his wife and looks to be speaking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Another view of the dinner table: Merkel and Trump can be seen chatting, while Melania Trump is turned toward Putin, whose back of head can be seen
Although first lady Melania Trump was part of his conversation with Putin.
“As is typical at multilateral events, President Trump and the First Lady had a number of informal conversations with world leaders at the dinner last night, including President Putin,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
Trump canceled his scheduled meeting with his Russian counterpart while he was on Air Force One in route to Argentina on Thursday, citing Russian aggression against the Ukraine as the reason.
And the White House denied a report from the Kremlin that Trump and Putin would speak at some point during the G20.
The two men would not engage in a ‘pull aside’ – State Department term for informal, unscheduled talks between world leaders that can happen at summits – during their two days in Argentina, a White House official said on Friday.
And, on Friday, Trump said it wasn’t the ‘right time’ for him to meet with Putin given the country’s seizure of Ukrainian ships and noted ‘I can’t read his mind’ when it comes to his counterpart’s actions.
The president talked tough on Russia, saying ‘we can’t allow certain things to happen.’
It was a notable difference in demeanor given criticism Trump has faced in the past about appearing too deferential to Putin.
President Donald Trump said on Friday wasn’t the ‘right time’ for him to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin
Trump has stayed away from Putin, including at photo opportunities such as the one above with world leaders and their spouses
The president talked tough on Russia in a Voice of America interview
Melania Trump sat next to Putin at the dinner at last year’s G20 in Hamburg, Germany
‘I can’t read his mind, and nobody can,’ Trump told Voice of America when asked why Putin directed Russia’s military forces to take three Ukrainian vessels.
‘He knows what he wants to do, but we can’t allow certain things to happen, you know, it happened, and I just can’t be a part of it,’ Trump added.
Russia’s aggression toward the Ukraine sparked international outrage and was the reason Trump gave for canceling his scheduled sit down with him at the G20 summit.
‘Frankly, in light of what happened with Ukraine with the ships and the sailors, it just wouldn’t be the right time, but I will meet with him. I think we have a very good relationship, and I think we’re going to have a very good relationship with Russia, and China, and everyone else. I mean, I think it’s important. So I’ll meet with him at the appropriate time,’ the president told Voice of America.
The president has been keeping his distance from Putin – literally – during the first day of the G20 summit here.
In group photos during two different sessions during the day, Trump neither stood next to nor acknowledged the Russian president.
Friday evening, at a cultural event for the leaders and their spouses, Trump stood next to first lady Melania Trump and Argentina first lady Juliana Awada.
The president talked to Awada while Melania Trump turned around to talk to Brigitte Macron, the first lady of France, who was standing behind her.
Putin, who arrived at the event after Trump, stood next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who finally made it to Buenos Aires after being delayed by plane problems.
Trump also pointedly ignored Putin earlier in the day at the ‘family’ photo session – a G20 tradition where all the leaders gather for a group photo
The president gave Putin the side-eye as he walked by him but didn’t stop to speak to him.
‘I can’t read his mind, and nobody can,’ Trump told Voice of America when asked why Putin directed Russia’s military forces to take three Ukrainian vessels
Earlier in the day President Trump side-eyed Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Saudi prince at a family photo event
Trump did ‘exchange pleasantries’ with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Ivanka Trump looked on
After the ‘family’ photo, the leaders moved into a separate room for lunch, where they all sat around a round table, each of them with screens and microphones in front of them.
Trump sat two seats with British Prime Minister Theresa May to his left and a German official, sitting in for a missing Chancellor Angela Merkel, to his right.
Putin sat on the other side of table next to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
The two men, both facing international crisises of their own making, exchanged a high-five.
White House official said Trump and Putin would not speak during their two days in Argentina.
The denial came after the Kremlin told Reuters the president will speak with the Russian leader after all – a story the White House scrambled to denounce.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also used that opportunity to slam special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation for undermining U.S.-Russian relations but claimed President Trump nixed the Putin meeting over Ukraine.
She made the notable attack on the special counsel amid speculation that the president pulled out of his planned meeting with Putin in part due to blowback from the stunning guilty plea by his former lawyer Michael Cohen to an additional charge.
The prince and Putin exchanged high fives when they sat next to each other at a luncheon
Putin and MBS also shared a laugh
‘The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax, which is hopefully now nearing an end, is doing very well. Unfortunately, it probably does undermine our relationship with Russia. However, the reason for our canceled meeting is Ukraine. Hopefully, that will be resolved soon so that productive conversations can begin,’ Sanders said.
But there will be plenty of opportunities for the two men to bump into each other over the next two days, including Friday night’s cultural event and the dinner for leaders afterward at the Teatro Colon.
Trump did end up ‘exchanging pleasantries’ with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the G20 on Friday after avoiding talking to him during the ‘family’ photo session that afternoon.
Cameras at the summit caught the president talking with the prince during a luncheon after the photo taking.
‘They exchanged pleasantries at the leaders session as he did with nearly every leader in attendance,’ a senior White House official said on background.
But the president said he did not talk to the prince, who faces international condemnation for his role in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
‘We had no discussion. We might, but we had none,’ he said during a photo opportunity with Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe of Japan and Narendra Modi of India.
Camera footage from the luncheon event shows Trump with the prince as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and first daughter Ivanka Trump look on.
And later in the day the president was asked if he would exchange pleasantries with the other controversial leader at the G20: Putin.
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Not particularly. I don’t know.’