At long last face to face, President Donald Trump confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin directly Friday over Moscow's meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, as the two leaders sought to use their historic first meeting to move past the issue and forge closer cooperation on Syria.
In a two-hours-plus meeting in Germany, Trump and Putin had a "robust and lengthy" discussion about the interference, though Putin denied involvement, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
His Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said Trump had accepted Putin's assurances that Russia didn't meddle in the U.S. election — a divergent description of the conversation that illustrated each country's effort to show its leader had held his ground.
"I think the president is rightly focused on how do we move forward from something that may be an intractable disagreement at this point," said Tillerson, who took part in the meeting along with Lavrov.
Trump's decision to raise the issue directly with Putin fulfilled ardent demands by U.S. lawmakers of both parties that the president not shy away from the issue in his highly anticipated meeting with Putin. Trump has avoided stating unequivocally in the past that Russia interfered, even as investigations proceed into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russians who sought to help him win.
On one point, Putin and Trump agreed, Tillerson said: The issue has become a hindrance to better relations between the two powers. The two leaders agreed to continue the discussion, with an eye toward securing a commitment that Russia won't interfere in U.S. affairs in the future, Tillerson added.