(WASHINGTON) — The much-discussed formal meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC) in Vietnam will not happen after all, according to the White House.
While trade was at the top of the agenda for Trump’s appearance at the summit, the possible sit-down was expected to generate significant buzz.
“Regarding a Putin meeting, there was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday, shortly after the president landed in Vietnam. “There is no formal meeting or anything scheduled for them. 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. 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.”
Sanders added there is still a chance that Putin and Trump would interact on the sidelines in an informal manner, but that they “don’t anticipate” any formal meeting between the two leaders.
The meeting was never on the president’s public schedule, but a Kremlin spokesman had said Thursday that the meeting was likely to take place on Friday, even as the format and timing were still being worked out. The Kremlin has previously said that the “likelihood is great” for a one-on-one meeting between the two leaders and that the matter has been in the works for weeks.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday stopped short of confirming that the meeting was set for Friday, telling reporters that it’s “still under consideration.” But Trump went further in telling reporters last week as he first set out on his Asia trip that he did expect to sit down with Putin.
“I think it’s expected we’ll meet with Putin, yeah,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One, as he kicked off his tour of Asia.
The meeting would have been closely watched with heightened tensions between the two countries on a range of issues, including the ongoing conflict in Syria, the nuclear standoff with North Korea, fresh U.S. sanctions against Russia, and the ongoing investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and questions of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
The president had indicated that North Korea would be at the top of the docket for the potential meeting, telling reporters “we want Putin’s help on North Korea.”
Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that while there’s “no coordinated agenda” for the meeting, “it is obvious that it will be a good opportunity to exchange opinions on the most vital issues, both international and bilateral.”
The two leaders previously encountered each other at the G20 Summit in Germany last July, where they had two meetings.
The first official meeting between the leaders stretched on for over two hours, with Tillerson later telling reporters that “neither one of them wanted to stop.”
Tillerson went on to say that the U.S. delegation at one point even sent first lady Melania Trump into the meeting in an attempt to get the leaders to wrap up the bilateral talks. “That didn’t work either,” he said.
It was during that first meeting that Trump directly confronted Putin over the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election. But when Putin denied the charge in the meeting, Tillerson said the president didn’t dwell on the “intractable disagreement.”
“The presidents rightly focused on how do we move forward from what may be simply an intractable disagreement at this point,” Tillerson said.
A Putin spokesman described that first meeting as a “win-win situation” for both leaders.
Trump and Putin had a second conversation during that same summit, interacting during a dinner that included the world leaders at the summit and their spouses. While some reports said the two leaders spoke for nearly an hour, the White House disputed that length, saying the meeting was “brief.”
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