Obama Says He Didn’t Address Election in Last Meeting With Putin
published Nov 20th 2016, 5:31 pm, by Toluse Olorunnipa, Margaret Talev and Ilya Arkhipov
President Barack Obama said he didn’t discuss alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election in a four-minute meeting with Vladimir Putin in Lima, an encounter that’s likely the last between two leaders divided by Ukraine, Syria, human rights and cyber warfare.
“As usual, it was a candid and courteous meeting but it was very clear about the strong differences we had on policy,” Obama said in a news conference after a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Peru. “The issue of the elections did not come up because that’s behind us and I was focused in this brief discussion on moving forward.”
The brief encounter with the Russian president, conducted with the help of a translator, came as Asia-Pacific leaders gathered for a Sunday morning session. There are no plans for a second meeting, said Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Obama, who leaves office in two months, could be seen uttering the word, “OK,” and Putin was observed reacting with facial expressions, as journalists were permitted into the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit for a few minutes to take photographs. Obama also made his way around the room to greet other leaders.
Obama said he conveyed U.S. concerns about the bombing of civilians in Aleppo by the Syrian government and Russian forces, and he urged Putin to implement a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, where the Russian military is involved in the country’s civil war — “to see if we can get that done before my term is up,” Obama said.
It was the first meeting between the two leaders since Donald Trump’s win in the Nov. 8 presidential election. During the campaign, Democrats accused Russia of interfering in a way that helped Trump, the Republican nominee. U.S. intelligence officials have tied the Russian government to the hacking and subsequent leaking of Democrats’ e-mails that harmed Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The recent U.S. elections, Trump’s victory and hacking weren’t discussed during the “very brief” meeting, Peskov said via text message.
A summary of the “brief and informal” discussion, provided by the White House, said Obama restated U.S. and allies’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, urged Putin to uphold Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements, and said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov must keep working with the international community to reduce violence and alleviate Syrians’ suffering.
A bombing campaign by Syria’s government has intensified in recent days. The U.S. has criticized Russia for backing the Syrian regime in a civil war that has killed more than 300,000 people.
Obama has called on Trump to “stand up’’ to Putin when Russia pursues policies that are at odds with American interests. Trump displayed an affinity for Russia and Putin during his campaign, and the Russian leader has said Trump’s election is an opportunity to restore the relationship between the two world powers.
Obama has opposed Putin over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its backing of the Syrian government and the cyber attacks that weighed on the U.S. electoral process. During a press conference in Berlin on Nov. 17, Obama said Trump should continue to support U.S. policy in these areas.
“My hope is that the president-elect coming in takes a similarly constructive approach, finding areas where we can cooperate with Russia where our values and interests align, but that the president-elect also is willing to stand up to Russia where they are deviating from our values and international norms,’’ he said.
Putin’s foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, blasted the Obama administration as recently as Nov. 17. “The departing team has recently been doing everything it can to push our relations into a such dead-end that will be quite difficult for the new team, if it wants, to pull them out of it,” Ushakov said.