HAMBURG, Germany (AP) — It began with one of the most closely watched diplomatic handshakes in decades and ended way later than expected.
What transpired between President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin during the two hours and 16 minutes in between will be dissected for days.
The public got only a quick glimpse of the two men toward the top of Friday’s much-anticipated meeting, leaving the opening handshake ripe for analysis.
It was friendly and simple — no undue handshake drama.
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That’s not always a given with Trump. He had raised eyebrows when he didn’t shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during an Oval Office photo opportunity earlier this year. And his clenched, jaw-straining clasp with French President Emmanuel Macron was seen as a test of masculinity and presidential power.
Putin and Trump were seated before the cameras were invited in on Friday.
The Russian leader sat back in his chair, a look of steely resolve on his face. Trump seemed relaxed, his hands in a triangle below his knees, his mouth offering a hint of a smile.
As the clicking of photographers’ shutters filled the room, the two men leaned in, shared a small laugh and eyed the press, whom both have at times deemed their enemy.
The tableau in the Hamburg meeting room: Trump, Putin, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a pair of translators.
Trump spoke first, saying that he and Putin were having “very good talks.”
“We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned,” Trump said, turning toward Putin. “And it’s an honor to be with you.”
Putin, using a translator, agreed, saying that “a phone conversation is never enough.”
“I am delighted to be able to meet you personally, Mr. President,” Putin said.
With that, the press was soon ushered out — shouted questions about Russian interference in last year’s election unanswered.
Tillerson said Trump went straight to the matter of Russian interference in the election; Putin, in turn, denied involvement.
According to Lavrov, Trump accepted that denial. But U.S. officials differed with that account.
The two men “had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject,” Tillerson said. “The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement.”
Tillerson also said there was a difference of opinion over tactics to be used to halt the threat posed by North Korea.
But largely, according to the secretary of state, the men “connected quickly.”
“Just about everything got touched on to one degree or another,” Tillerson said, adding that, “Neither one of them wanted to stop.”
As time dragged on, officials at one point dispatched first lady Melania Trump to enter the room and try to help wrap things up.
“We went another hour after she came to see us. So clearly she failed,” Tillerson joked at later briefing.
Lemire reported from New York.
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire