World

Leaders' dinner chat sets tongues wagging

Trump and Putin spoke for about an hour in second G-20 encounter

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a previously undisclosed conversation during a dinner for G-20 leaders at a summit earlier this month in Germany, a White House official said.

The two leaders held a formal two-hour bilateral meeting on July 7 in which Mr Trump later said Mr Putin denied allegations that he directed efforts to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election.

Mr Trump's interactions with the Russian leader were scrutinised closely because of those allegations.

Mr Trump and Mr Putin first met at the G-20 during a gathering of other leaders, which was shown in a video. They later held the bilateral meeting, which was attended briefly by a pool of reporters.

In the evening, both men attended a dinner with G-20 leaders. Mr Putin was seated next to US First Lady Melania Trump. Mr Trump went over to them at the conclusion of the dinner, the White House official said on Tuesday. That conversation was not previously disclosed.

"There was no 'second meeting' between President Trump and President Putin, just a brief conversation at the end of a dinner. The insinuation that the White House has tried to 'hide' a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd," the White House official said.

In a tweet late on Tuesday, Mr Trump said: "Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is 'sick'. All G-20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!"

News of the conversation, first reported by Mr Ian Bremmer, the president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, could raise renewed concern as Congress and a special counsel investigate allegations by US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered to help Mr Trump win the presidency. Mr Trump has said there was no collusion.

NO US TRANSLATOR

Mr Bremmer said Mr Trump got up from his seat halfway through dinner and spent about an hour talking "privately and animatedly" with Mr Putin, "joined only by Mr Putin's own translator".

The lack of a US translator raised eyebrows among other leaders at the dinner, said Mr Bremmer, who called it a "breach of national security protocol".

The White House official said the leaders and their spouses were permitted to have only one translator attend the dinner.

Mr Trump sat next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife. His translator spoke Japanese.

"When President Trump spoke to President Putin, the two leaders used the Russian translator, since the American translator did not speak Russian," the White House official said.

A US official who was briefed by his counterparts about the encounter said: "No one is sure what their discussion was about and whether it was purely social or touched on bilateral or international issues."

As part of the investigations into allegations of Moscow's meddling, a congressional panel said on Tuesday it wanted to interview Mr Trump's eldest son, his former campaign chairman and all others who were at a June 2016 meeting with Russian nationals.

A man, known as Mr Kaveladze, who works for a Moscow-based developer with ties to Mr Trump, was identified on Tuesday as the eighth person to attend the Trump Tower meeting. - REUTERS

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