World leaders posed for a photo while attending the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Da Nang. President Trump and Vladimir Putin can be seen posing side by side. USA TODAY
DA NANG, Vietnam — President Trump wrapped up two days of meetings at an Asia-Pacific economic conference Saturday, going behind closed doors to make his cases on global trade and North Korea — and speaking informally with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the civil war in Syria.
While White House did not comment on the Trump-Putin talks, Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that the two leaders agreed on a joint statement about how to address the ongoing violence in Syria.
While Trump and Putin did not schedule a formal meeting on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, they were seen shaking hands before a private leaders’ meeting Saturday.
Later, Trump and Putin chatted together as a group of leaders headed toward the site of a “family photo” of APEC leaders.
The two also shook hands at a Friday night dinner for summit delegates.
It is not known what Trump and Putin discussed; a U.S. press pool was closed off from Trump’s meetings at APEC.
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According to the White House schedule, the U.S. president participated in what aides called an “economic leaders meeting retreat.” There was also “a working luncheon” and a “second APEC economic leaders meeting,” as well as the family photo.
Earlier in the week, Trump said he wanted to speak with Putin about pulling economic support from North Korea, part of what the president envisions as an international effort to pressure Kim Jong Un’s government into giving up nuclear weapons.
As the White House entourage arrived in Vietnam on Friday, officials said the schedule would not permit a formal meeting between the two leaders, in part because diplomats had not nailed down the specifics of a Syria agreement. They did not rule out an informal chat between the American and Russian leaders.
“There is no formal meeting or anything scheduled for them,” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said Friday. “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.”
Private “pull-asides” at summit meetings have drawn criticisms of Barack Obama and previous presidents who have engaged in them. There is no formal record of what was said, and aides often give different interpretations of the brief conversations.
The American and Russian presidents bumped into each other at a time when a U.S. special counsel and Congress are investigating Russian interference in last year’s presidential election, including contacts with Trump campaign associates.
North Korea and trade have topped Trump’s agenda on an Asia trip that has taken him to Japan, North Korea and China, as well as the APEC summit in Vietnam.
In a speech to APEC on Friday, Trump argued that too many countries are taking advantage of the United States when it comes to trade, and he will try to stop it.
After Da Nang, Trump prepared to head north to Hanoi to meet with Vietnamese leaders on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Trump completes his Asia trip on Monday and Tuesday at more meetings with Asia-Pacific leaders at conferences in the Philippines.
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