The private talks between world leaders that usually surround the G20 meeting have kicked off, with US President Donald Trump meeting host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
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Trump has a series of high-stakes meetings lined up at the international summit being held in Osaka, with plans to push allies on both trade and defence spending.
He’ll follow his meeting with Abe with talks with the leaders of India and Germany before holding his first meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin since the special counsel found extensive evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.
“We’ll be discussing trade, we’ll be discussing military,” among other items, Trump said as he sat across from Abe for their discussions.
The US President has complained in recent days 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one-sided, that Germany was taking advantage of the US on support for NATO and that India’s tariffs on the US “must be withdrawn!”. Trump also meets Friday with Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, whom the American leader has come to view as a populist leader in his own image
But the main event will be Trump’s first public meeting with Putin since the Helsinki summit in which the President refused to side with US intelligence agencies over his Russian counterpart.
Trump said in advance he expected a “very good conversation” with Putin but told reporters that “what I say to him is none of your business.” His aides have grown worried that Trump could use the meeting to once again attack Robert Mueller’s probe on the world stage, particularly since the special counsel now has a date to testify before Congress next month.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer 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.”
.While Trump has long placed a premium on establishing close personal ties with Putin, his government has increased sanctions and other pressures on the Russian government.
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 meeting, which will likely include discussions about hotspots in Iran, Syria and Venezuela, as well as nuclear weapons.
Trump landed in Osaka on Thursday amid a tropical cyclone that is predicted to turn into a typhoon – a possible metaphor for the four days of high-stakes diplomacy that lie ahead.