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Afp

Trump-Putin summit: Five key takeaways

By AFP
media "Now the ball is in your court," Russia's Vladimir Putin told US President Donald Trump, handing him a ball from the 2018 World Cup AFP

At their much-anticipated presidential summit, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin were at pains to talk up a reconciliation in fractured ties between the United States and Russia.

But Trump's failure to condemn the Kremlin's alleged role in directing a campaign of manipulation in the US elections will dominate coverage in Washington, where it triggered outrage.

Here are five takeaways from the news conference that followed their first summit, in the Finnish capital Helsinki:

- Meddling, moi? -

Russia did not meddle in the 2016 elections, Putin said, rejecting the verdict of US intelligence chiefs that Moscow hacked the Democrats' emails and leaked them to help propel Trump to the White House.

Trump appeared to buy the denial, to the outrage of opponents and even some Republicans back home, despite his intelligence advice and a widening probe by US special counsel Robert Mueller that indicted 12 alleged Russian agents last week.

Putin's denial was "powerful", Trump said. "I have President Putin, he just said it is not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be," he argued.

Instead, Trump welcomed an offer by Putin for US agents to indirectly grill the indicted Russians by submitting their questions to Russian officials.

Both leaders rejected any talk of pre-election collusion, and Putin also dismissed the idea that his government holds compromising material on Trump, a wealthy property tycoon who oversaw the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.

"Please get this rubbish out of your heads," Putin told the press.

- Reset, again -

As secretary of state, Trump's 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton famously pressed a large button marked "reset" to denote a fresh start to ties with Russia. Relations, however, swiftly lurched from bad to worse.

This time, according to Trump and Putin, it's different.

The summit was "only the beginning", the US president said. "Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago."

Putin praised the "frank and business-like atmosphere" of the talks. "I consider them very successful and useful," he said.

But try and tell that to many in the US Congress, angered at Trump's acquiescence to Putin's denials, who lined up to assail Trump's handling of the summit as a surrender of US interests.

- 'The nuclear' -

Heading into the summit, Trump emphasised his wish to tackle a developing race between the two countries to modernise their nuclear arsenals.

Nothing specific emerged, but Putin said it was "necessary to work together to interact on the disarmament agenda", including a return to existing treaties to limit long-range and intermediate nuclear forces.

For his part, Trump said nuclear proliferation was "one of the most critical challenges facing humanity" while lauding his own role in bringing North Korea to the table.

But the election collusion probe was a distraction as it undermined relations between two countries that wield 90 percent of the world's nuclear arsenal, Trump said.

- Global hotspots -

Trump and Putin appear to have come to some kind of arrangement to work together and with Israel to support a ceasefire in southern Syria, suggesting that Washington is backing off its demand that Moscow's ally Bashar al-Assad step down.

Trump said both he and Putin had spoken to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "and would like to do certain things with respect to Syria having to do with the safety of Israel."

Putin said, "I want to confirm that Russia is interested in this development and... will act accordingly," but neither leader was very clear about what the next steps would be.

Trump also failed to assure US allies about Ukraine, after using a G7 summit to query whether it is time to recognise Russia's 2014 annexation of the Crimea region and lift related sanctions against Moscow.

Trump stayed silent on the issue in Helsinki but Putin spoke for him, admitting that the American president "stands firmly" behind the US position that the annexation was illegal.

Putin said they had also agreed to differ on Iran, after Trump pulled out of an international pact designed to curb the Islamic republic's nuclear ambitions.

- Football -

After Trump congratulated Putin on the successful staging of the World Cup in Russia, the Kremlin boss tossed him a tournament football in a slightly strained attempt to lighten the mood after a barrage of questions about Syria and meddling.

"I will give the ball to you and now the ball is in your court. All the more as the United States will host the World Cup in 2026," Putin said.

Trump cheerfully said he hoped the United States would host an equally successful competition, and promised to give the ball to his 12-year-old son Barron.

The exchange appeared to amuse the two leaders but it became another bone of contention in Washington.

"If it were me, I'd check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House," hawkish Republican Senator Lyndsey Graham said on Twitter.

 
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