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US President Donald Trump had a second undisclosed meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of G20 summit in Germany early this month, according to media reports.
The White House has confirmed that the two leaders spoke during the G20 dinner, but said it is incorrect to describe it as the second meeting.
"There was no "second meeting" between President Trump and President Putin, just a brief conversation at the end of a dinner. The insinuation that the White House has tried to "hide" a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd," the White House said last night after various media reports came about the second meeting.
The meeting lasted for about an hour and was in addition to the two and half hour meeting the two leaders had as part of the structured dialogue, the media reports claimed.
"It is not merely perfectly normal, it is part of a President's duties, to interact with world leaders. Throughout the G20 and in all his other foreign engagements, President Trump has demonstrated American leadership by representing our interests and values on the world stage," the White House said in support of the meeting.
The White House said during the night of the G20 summit, there was, first, a concert for all the leaders in the new Hamburg opera house. The leaders were all photographed by the press in before going inside.
Later that night, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted a dinner for leaders and spouses only, and the German government set the seating arrangements, it said.
The concert and dinner were publicly announced on both the President's schedule and the G20 schedule, with the clear understanding that all visiting leaders would be present, it added.
"At the dinner, President Trump was seated between Mrs Abe, wife of the Prime Minister of Japan, and Mrs Macri, wife of the President of Argentina. Mrs Trump was seated next to President Putin," the White House said.
During the course of the dinner, all the leaders circulated throughout the room and spoke with one another freely, the White House explained.
"President Trump spoke with many leaders during the course of the evening. As the dinner was concluding, President Trump went over to Mrs Trump, where he spoke briefly with President Putin," it said.
"Each couple was allowed one translator. The American translator accompanying President Trump spoke Japanese. When President Trump spoke to President Putin, the two leaders used the Russian translator, since the American translator did not speak Russian," the White House said.
Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, the absence of American translator in the meeting was breach of national security protocol.
"Never in my life as a political scientist have I seen two countries -major countries -with a constellation of national interests that are as dissonant, while the two leaders seem to be doing everything possible to make nice and be close to each other," he told Bloomberg in an interview.
The New York Times said the meeting raises new questions about Trump-Putin relationship.
"The intimate dinner conversation, of which there is no official US government record, because no American official other than the president was involved, is the latest to raise eyebrows. Foreign leaders who witnessed it later commented privately on the oddity of an American president flaunting such a close rapport with his Russian counterpart," the daily reported.
"Pretty much everyone at the dinner thought this was really weird, that here is the president of the US, who clearly wants to display that he has a better relationship personally with President Putin than any of us, or simply doesn't care," Bremmer was quoted as saying by The New York Times.
Bremmer said he heard directly from attendees.
"They were flummoxed, they were confused and they were startled," he said.
But in a series of two tweets, Trump slammed the media.
"Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is "sick." All G20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany," Trump said.
"Press knew about it. The Fake News is becoming more and more dishonest! Even a dinner arranged for top 20 leaders in Germany is made to look sinister!" Trump said in another tweet.
Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is "sick." All G 20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2017
The Fake News is becoming more and more dishonest! Even a dinner arranged for top 20 leaders in Germany is made to look sinister!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2017