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Trump news: Jimmy Carter questions president's legitimacy as POTUS jokes with Putin about election interference

President laughs with Vladimir Putin about ousting journalists at G20 summit in Japan

Chris Riotta
New York
,Joe Sommerlad
Friday 28 June 2019 17:03
Comments
Trump jokes to Putin during G20 meeting in Japan: 'don't meddle in US election'

Donald Trump has met with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the G20 in Osaka, Japan, wagging a finger at his Kremlin counterpart and saying, at the prompting of reporters and in a jovial manner: “Don’t meddle in the election.”

The pair bonded over their shared contempt for journalists on a long day of talks with fellow world leaders covering Iran, trade and defence spending before sitting down to an elegant banquet - where Mr Trump was seen slugging a huge glass of non-alcoholic wine - as the first day of the summit drew to a close.

That was one day after the Russian leader praised the president of the United States for his nationalist world views and vigorously declared the days of the West’s liberals are dying if not already dead.

For some time, Mr Trump has defied the once-entrenched Republican distrust if not outright hatred of the powerful nation at the heart of the former Soviet Union. But Friday’s joint appearance seemed to go even further.

As the two leaders sat down for their first meeting in nearly a year, a reporter asked Mr Trump if he would warn Putin not to meddle in America’s upcoming 2020 election.

The exchange at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka echoed one of the defining moments of Mr Trump’s presidency from a year ago in Helsinki, Finland. There, he pointedly did not admonish Mr Putin about election interference and did not side with US intelligence agencies over his Russian counterpart.

Mr Putin disputes special counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 US election to help Mr Trump win. Mr Putin told the Financial Times this week that it was “mythical interference.”

“What happened in reality? Mr Trump looked into his opponents’ attitude to him and saw changes in American society and he took advantage of this,” Mr Putin told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, in the second Democratic Party presidential debate in Miami, Florida, the standout moment of the night came when California senator Kamala Harris laid into former vice president Joe Biden over his “hurtful” recent remarks about being able to work with segregationists he disagreed with earlier in his career, reminding the veteran of the harmful legacy of their stance.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.

Joe Sommerlad28 June 2019 09:29
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Donald Trump jokingly told Russian leader Vladimir Putin "don't meddle in the election" at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in their first meeting since FBI special counsel Robert Mueller concluded Moscow interfered with the 2016 campaign.

The tone of the president's comments, which came after a reporter asked if he would warn Putin, were immediately open to interpretation.

But they would seem to do little to silence questions about President Trump's relationship with Russia in the aftermath of Mueller's conclusion that he could not establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

It was the first time the leaders had met since they sat together publicly in Helsinki, Finland, nearly a year ago, when President Trump pointedly did not admonish Putin over election interference and did not side with US intelligence services over his Russian counterpart.

At a summit last November in Argentina, Trump cancelled what would have been the leaders' first post-Helsinki meeting after Russia seized two Ukrainian vessels and their crew in the Sea of Azor. Those crew members remain detained, yet Trump has opted to forge ahead with the Osaka meeting, which will likely include discussions about hot spots in Iran, Syria and Venezuela, as well as nuclear weapons. 

The leaders last year announced their withdrawal from a key arms control pact, the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. It is set to terminate this summer, raising fears of a new arms race. Another major nuclear agreement, the New Start treaty, is set to expire in 2021 unless Moscow and Washington negotiate an extension. 

The pair traded brief remarks on Friday about issues they planned to discuss when a reporter shouted to President Trump about warning Putin "not to meddle" in the 2020 election.

The president answered "of course" before he turned to Mr Putin and said: "Don't meddle in the election."

He playfully repeated request while pointing at Putin, who laughed.

President Trump also said he enjoyed a "very, very good relationship" with Putin, and said "many positive things are going to come out of the relationship".

He said trade and disarmament were among the issues they would discuss.

Before he jetted out on Air Force One, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had pressed the president to directly challenge the Russian leader on election interference and send a signal "not merely to Putin but to all of our adversaries that interfering with our election is unacceptable, and that they will pay a price - a strong price - for trying". The little joke Trump and Putin shared was probably not what Schumer had in mind.

The meeting with Putin, which came amid a host of negotiations on international crises, trade wars and a growing global to-do list, was the main event on President Trump's agenda on Friday at the G20 summit in Osaka.

President Trump had said in advance of meeting Mr Putin that he expected a "very good conversation" with the Russian leader, but told reporters that "what I say to him is none of your business."

His aides had grown worried that President Trump could use the meeting to once again attack the Russia probe on the world stage, particularly since Mr Mueller recently agreed to testify before Congress next month, he did not utter the special counsel's name.

Here's more from Alessio Perrone.

Joe Sommerlad28 June 2019 09:34
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Trump naturally had one eye on the race back home to challenge him in 2020 as he arrived in Osaka yesterday, taking time out from meeting world leaders to talk trade and defence spending to issue this snide tweet:

Trump opened the G20 summit in Japan by sitting down with his host, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, followed by Indian PM Narendra Modi and German chancellor Angela Merkel. He sounded optimistic about inking trade deals with all three and praised alliances he has strained in the past. 

But even with an array of world issues on the agenda, the US president could not resist weighing in on events at home.

"I just passed a television set on the way here. I saw that health care and maximum health care was given to 100 per cent of the illegal immigrants coming into our country by the Democrats," Trump said, telling Merkel that a debate the previous night "wasn't very exciting." 

"So I look forward to spending time with you rather than watching," he said.

Merkel, a Zen master of deadpan, did not react. 

Trump, who in the past has disrupted carefully choreographed summits by attacking allies and adversaries alike, made no public mention of his recent complaints in an interview with Fox Business that the US military alliance with Japan is one-sided, that Germany was taking advantage of the US on support for NATO and that India's tariffs on the US "must be withdrawn!" 

Abe and Trump discussed trade and North Korea, while the three leaders spoke about enhanced security cooperation in the South China Sea and Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant that Trump has put on a blacklist and is viewed as a national security threat because of the possibility that its equipment could be used for cyber-espionage. 

Earlier, as Abe officially received Trump, the president waved over his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior White House aides, to pose with him for the official welcome photo. Trump and Abe were later joined by Modi and the portion of the meeting open to reporters was convivial: at Trump's urging, the three leaders engaged in a group fist bump. 

Trump later delivered brief remarks on the need to protect digital technology and intellectual property, a veiled swipe at a thorny issue in trade talks with China. 

For Trump, the G20 arrives amid a gauntlet of negotiations on international crises, trade wars and a growing global to-do list. 

He landed in Osaka on Thursday amid a tropical cyclone that is forecast to become a typhoon - a possible metaphor for the diplomacy that lies ahead. As his re-election bid heats up, Trump was eager to produce breakthroughs on a series of foreign policy challenges including the showdown between the US and Iran, a trade war with China and stalled nuclear talks with North Korea. 

The summit will test Trump's go-it-alone style as well as his "America First" doctrine that has frustrated traditional allies over disputes on defense spending and trade, and set the United States apart from global consensus on how to deal with international concerns like climate change and Iran's nuclear programme. 

Joe Sommerlad28 June 2019 09:50
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Iran is expected to be a major talking point at the G20, as diplomats warn Tehran is on course to breach a threshold in its nuclear agreement within days. But President Trump, who has ratcheted up pressure on the Middle Eastern country, said there was "absolutely no time pressure" on the issue.

The milestone comes a week after Trump called off air strikes on the country at the last minute in response to the downing of a US Navy Global Hawk surveillance drone and adds additional diplomatic urgency to find a way out of the crisis.

Iran had set Thursday as a deadline beyond which it would exceed the threshold for stockpiles of enriched uranium allowed under its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, which Tehran is still following even though Washington abandoned it last year.

The diplomats, citing UN. inspectors' data, said the Islamic Republic was on course to exceed the limits soon by accumulating more enriched uranium than permitted but it had not done so by Thursday.

However, Trump said of Iran on Friday: "We have a lot of time. There's no rush."

"They can take their time. There's absolutely no time pressure. I think in the end, hopefully, it's going to work out. If it does, great - and if it doesn't, you'll be hearing about it," he said as he greeted India's Narendra Modi on the sidelines in Osaka.

Other world leaders gathered in Japan continued to express concern about Iran, even as Trump appeared relaxed.

Chinese president Xi Jinping said the Gulf region was "standing at a crossroads of war and peace", calling for calm and restraint and talks to resolve the issue.

"China always stands on the side of peace and opposes war," state news agency Xinhua paraphrased Xi as saying in Osaka. "All parties must remain calm and exercise restraint, strengthen dialogue and consultations, and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability."

European Council president Donald Tusk, also at the G20, expressed concern about Iran potentially breaching the pact, saying the European Union would continue to monitor Tehran's compliance.

"We strongly urge Iran to continue the full implementation of all its commitments under the nuclear deal, and we take very seriously the possibility of any breach of its commitment," he told a news conference.

"Maintaining the nuclear deal is in the regional and international security interest," Tusk said. "The EU is committed to the deal as long as Iran continues to uphold it."

One diplomat in Vienna, headquarters of the UN nuclear agency the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Thursday: "They haven't reached the limit ... It's more likely to be at the weekend if they do it."

Joe Sommerlad28 June 2019 10:08
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The US envoy on Iran, Brian Hook, meanwhile met European officials in Paris on Thursday to discuss what he described as Iran's "nuclear blackmail".

France, one of the European countries caught in the middle, said it would ask Trump to suspend some sanctions on Iran to make room for negotiations to defuse the escalating confrontation between Washington and Tehran.

"I want to convince Trump that it is in his interest to reopen a negotiation process (and) go back on certain sanctions to give negotiations a chance," French president Emmanuel Macron said in Japan on Thursday.

The United States withdrew last year from the pact, under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear programme in return for relief from economic sanctions. Iran has said it wants to abide by the agreement but cannot do so indefinitely because US sanctions mean it is receiving none of its benefits.

The escalating crisis has put the United States in the position of demanding its European allies enforce Iranian compliance with an accord Washington itself rejects.

"Our sanctions do not give Iran the right to accelerate its nuclear programme," Hook said in an interview before meeting European officials. "It can never get near a nuclear bomb. We are looking very closely at that so it doesn't get below the one-year nuclear breakout time."

The confrontation, brewing for a year after Trump quit the pact, accelerated last month when the United States sharply tightened its sanctions to force countries to eliminate purchases of Iranian oil, Tehran's main source of income.

US-Iranian military tensions have risen over the past two months. Washington accused Iran of carrying out attacks on six tankers in May and June, which Tehran denies.

Iran shot down a US drone last week it said was in its airspace. The United States said it was in international skies.

Trump said later he hoped to avoid war but that, if one took place, it would be short and not involve boots on the ground. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter in response on Thursday a "short war with Iran is an illusion", and the threat to obliterate Iran amounted to a threat of genocide.

The new acting US defence Secretary Mark Esper, seeking support from NATO allies in Brussels, said: "We do not seek armed conflict with Iran but we are ready to defend US forces and interests in the region."

The Trump administration says its ultimate goal is to force Iran back to the table for negotiations. It argues that the 2015 deal, negotiated under Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, was too weak because it was not permanent and did not cover non-nuclear issues, such as Iran's missile programme and regional behaviour.

Joe Sommerlad28 June 2019 10:20
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Also at the G20, Trump has promised Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro that he will visit the South American country. 

Trump said that Brazil has many of the world's assets and that he looks forward to the trip. He didn't say when it would be. 

Bolsonaro, dubbed the "Trump of the Tropics" after he emulated Trump to win election last year, told Trump he supports his re-election.

Trump also answered several questions about his meeting Saturday with Chinese president Xi Jinping and said he thinks it will be productive. The US and China remain locked in a trade war. 

Trump says he hasn't promised to hold off on new tariffs on Chinese goods. 

Joe Sommerlad28 June 2019 10:30
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Now on to last night's 2020 Democratic debate.

The standout moment was unquestionably California senator Kamala Harris laying into former vice president and front-runner Joe Biden over his “hurtful” recent remarks about being able to work with segregationists he disagreed with earlier in his career, reminding the veteran of the harmful legacy of their stance and trashing Biden's claim to be a champion of civil rights.

"I do not believe you are a racist. And I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground,” Harris told him, in the most dramatic exchange of either debate.

"But I also believe - and it’s personal, and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and careers on the segregation of race in this country."

Harris referred to her experience of being bussed to school in Berkeley as a child as part of a programme to redress the wrongs of segregation, later tweeting a picture of herself as a schoolgirl to underline the point.

The below serves to neatly sum up the consensus on Harris's performance.

Here's Andrew Buncombe and Clark Mindock on an extraordinary moment.

Joe Sommerlad28 June 2019 10:45
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Biden and Harris spoke for the longest over the two nights of debate while poor old universal basic income advocate Andrew Yang barely got a word in edge-ways, according to NPR.

Here's Chris Riotta with four key takeaways from a bad night for poll leaders Biden and Bernie Sanders on which Harris triumphed and author Marianne Williamson - likened by one person on Twitter to "a high Jodie Foster" - distinguishing herself with an extraordinarily eccentric performance.

Joe Sommerlad28 June 2019 11:00
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Joe Sommerlad28 June 2019 11:15
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Texan author and activist Marianne Williamson - a spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey and former college roommate of actress Laura Dern - was undoubtedly the breakout star of last night's debate in Miami.

Some of her answers were simply extraordinary, others brave and confrontational.

She was the most searched for candidate online last night...

...And her pledge to "harness love" and use it as a weapon against the Trump administration caught the imagination of Twitter in particular.

Joe Sommerlad28 June 2019 11:30

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