President Barack Obama spoke briefly with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday as an economic summit got under way in Peru, in their first known conversation since Donald Trump was elected the next US president. The two leaders were seen chatting as reporters were allowed in briefly for the start of the opening session of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima. They stood off to the side together momentarily with aides close by before shaking hands and then taking their seats around a table.
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It was unclear what the two were discussing, and their words weren’t audible to journalists present. The White House did not immediately provide details about the content of their conversation.
The short interaction came amid intense speculation and concern about whether Trump’s election might herald a more conciliatory US approach to Russia. Under Obama, the US has enacted severe sanctions on Russia over its aggressive behaviour in Ukraine and has sought unsuccessfully to persuade Moscow to stop intervening in Syria’s civil war to help prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Trump and Putin have already signalled they may pursue a less antagonistic relationship after Trump takes office in January. In a phone call shortly after Trump was elected, Putin congratulated him and expressed readiness for a “partner-like dialogue,” the Kremlin said.
In the run-up to the election, the US also accused Russia of trying to interfere in the election, including by hacking into Democratic Party email systems. Obama has raised concerns directly to Putin ahead of the election about Russian hacking, and the US also registered complaints through a hotline set up to avert accidental nuclear war.
Throughout the campaign, the Kremlin insisted that it had no favourites and rejected the claims of interference in the US election.
The meeting came as Obama prepared for planned separate talks with the leaders of Australia and Canada before wrapping up the final foreign trip of his presidency.
Both countries helped negotiate a multinational trade agreement with the US and nine other Pacific Rim countries. But Congress is unlikely to ratify the deal, dealing a blow to Obama’s once high hopes of having the agreement become part of his presidential legacy.
Trump says trade deals can hurt US workers, and he opposes the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.