The dialogue must go on. After historic first summit with the North Korean supremo, Kim Jong Un, US President Donald Trump had a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki. It raised many questions. Trump had to respond to some of the questions raised by the opposition Democratic Party and even by few senior Republicans, who criticised Trump’s performance at the joint press conference. Putin faces hardly any opposition in his country. Senior Republican Senator John McCain called Trump’s performance as “one of the most disgraced by an American president in memory”. John Brennan, former CIA director, described it as “nothing short of treasonous”.
Trump is criticised for taking the Russian leader’s word over that of US intelligence agencies on Russia’s meddling in the US presidential election campaign in 2016. While responding to a question at the press conference with Putin, Trump said, ”I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server.” After fury in the US, Trump clarified his remarks and said he “misspoke” during his presser with Putin. After a review of the transcript and video of the conference, Trump on Thursday said, “In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t”.
The sentence should have been “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t or why it wouldn’t be Russia.” Democrat Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump, had also alleged Russian role in the US elections campaign. Putin denied Russia’s role but admitted he had wanted Trump to win the elections. Within hours of the joint press conference, the White House stepped in to rectify the damage and say that Trump’s answer was not what appeared.
The US President was given plenty of ammunition by Special Counsel Robert Muller to confront Putin in the ongoing investigation into the role of Russia in the 2016 US elections campaign. But, the feeling in the US intelligence is the “ammunition” was not used effectively. Later on, Trump admitted Russian role when he said, ”I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”
Trump’s bitter relations with a major section of the media once again became clear when he tweeted: The summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media.
On the other hand, in Moscow, Putin, who was an intelligence officer earlier, blasted the opposition to Trump in the US and called them as “pathetic, worthless people,” who were willing to sacrifice Russian-US ties for their own ambitions. He called his first summit with Trump a success. Now, Trump has asked his administration to invite Putin for a formal talk at the end of the year. He tweeted: I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things we discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber-attacks, trade, Ukraine.
There are many issues on which both the countries have contradictory positions to each other. These are such as Russia’s presence in Syria, unlawful annexation of Crimea, and Russia’s intrusion into east Ukraine. The US wants to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and helps a couple of anti-Assad groups. Russia is strongly behind Assad. The presence of Russian and Iranian forces helped Syria to liberate most of the regions from the militants. Putin said, ”As far as Syria is concerned, the task of establishing peace and reconciliation in this country could be the first showcase example of the successful joint work.” Putin said on Crimea, ”Trump continues to maintain that it was illegal to annexe it. Our viewpoint is different. We held a referendum in strict compliance with the UN charter and international legislation.” On east Ukraine, the news is, both the leaders discussed a possibility of a referendum in the independent-leaning region. If that happens, it will be a significant thing. But, the possibility is meagre as Russia aims much bigger. Trump tweeted that they discussed Ukraine but there was no mention of referendum or any other details. There was hardly any discussion of Crimea.
Nothing much came out from the first summit. But, it is a beginning of the process. The dialogue must go on. If they meet again in the next couple of months, it can be interpreted as a significant development. There are serious issues between two powerful nations and that cannot be resolved unless there are some serious deliberations.