MOSCOW/BEIJING (Reuters) - Prospects for a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. counterpart Donald Trump at this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit were unclear after the Kremlin said a meeting was definite before saying it was just a possibility.
Putin and Trump, who had their first face-to-face meeting in July to discuss allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, are both planning to attend this week’s summit in the Vietnamese city of Danang.
The Kremlin, which wants to try to improve battered U.S.-Russia ties, says it has been trying to set up a meeting and Trump told Fox News before his Asia tour that he might meet Putin in Vietnam to talk about Syria, Ukraine and North Korea.
Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told Russian news agencies on Thursday that such a meeting would happen on Friday, but Dmitry Peskov, a Putin spokesman, rowed back on that later on Thursday after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said no decision on formal talks had yet been taken.
Tillerson, on a visit to Beijing with Trump, also questioned whether the two leaders would have enough to talk about to justify such a meeting.
“There’s never been an agreement, certainly not to a full bilat(eral),” said Tillerson, who said it would not be unusual however if the two men had a spontaneous “pull-aside meeting” chat if they bumped into each other.
“The question is whether we’ve got sufficient substance (for a more formal meeting) and we’re working with the Russians as you know on a number of difficult areas,” said Tillerson.
“We’re in contact with them and the view’s that the two leaders are going to meet if there’s something sufficiently substantive to talk about that would warrant a formal meeting.”
Asked about Tillerson’s comments, Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters on a conference call that a possible meeting was still being discussed before predicting that the two men would cross paths “one way or another.”
Putin and Trump first got together at a G20 summit in Hamburg in July when they discussed accusations of Russian interference in the U.S. election but agreed to focus on better relations rather than litigating the past.
But ties have soured further since then.
Trump in August grudgingly signed off on new sanctions against Russia, a move Moscow said ended hopes for better relations. Putin ordered Washington to cut its embassy and consular staff in Russia by more than half.
Tensions have also flared over the conflict in Syria.
Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Polina Nikolskaya in Moscow and Matt Spetalnick, Philip Wen and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Mark Heinrich/William Maclean