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Trump, Putin Hold First Face-To-Face Meeting At G-20 Summit In Germany


President Trump was scheduled to meet for about half an hour today with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Instead their meeting stretched on more than two hours as the leaders discussed Syria, North Korea and Russian meddling in last year's presidential race. Trump has sometimes questioned that interference, calling it little more than an excuse drummed up by Democrats angry about losing the election. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Trump pulled no punches in his meeting with Putin NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Of all the world leaders gathered here in Hamburg, Germany, this was perhaps the most anticipated photo-op - the first face-to-face meeting between President Trump and the Russian leader whose cyber interference may have helped put him in office. Putin and Trump sat side by side, the Russian president slumping just a bit, Trump on the edge of his white arm chair. It was the American leader who reached out to initiate the handshake.


TRUMP: But we look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned. And it's an honor to be with you.

HORSLEY: Presidents often bring half a dozen cabinet secretaries and advisers along to a meeting like this, but Trump brought only one - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has a long history with Putin. Tillerson says once the TV cameras and reporters were hustled out of the room, the talk turned serious.


REX TILLERSON: The president opened the meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.

HORSLEY: Tillerson says the conversation about election meddling was lengthy and robust with Trump pressing Putin on the subject more than once.


TILLERSON: President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past. The two leaders agreed, though, that this is a substantial hindrance in the ability of us to move the Russian-U.S. relationship forward.

HORSLEY: Tillerson says the U.S. is looking for a way to guarantee Russia won't do it again, but he says the two leaders also talked about how to move forward and find areas where they can cooperate. At Russia's request, the U.S. has appointed a veteran diplomat to serve as special representative for Ukraine. The U.S. and Russia have also agreed, along with Jordan, on a ceasefire in a section of Southwest Syria.


TILLERSON: I think this is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria. And as a result of that, we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas and the violence once we defeat ISIS.

HORSLEY: Tillerson described the overall tone of the meeting as constructive. He says Trump and Putin had good chemistry and connected quickly. And once they got acquainted, Tillerson says, they had a lot to talk about, as the meeting stretched long past its allotted time.


TILLERSON: People were sticking their heads in the door. And I think they even - they sent in the first lady at one point to see if she could get us out of there. And that didn't work, either.

HORSLEY: Trump also met today with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. They talked about a shared interest in renegotiating NAFTA and fighting organized crime, though Trump told a reporter he still wants Mexico to pay for his planned border wall, which Pena Nieto has made clear his country is not going to do. Trump has several more high-profile meetings before he leaves the G-20 tomorrow, including talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Hamburg, Germany. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.