Jeff Seldin in contributed to this report from WASHINGTON.
OSAKA, JAPAN — U.S. President Donald Trump gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a light-hearted warning not to interfere again in American elections.
Appearing before reporters during his bilateral meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Trump was asked whether he would tell the Russian leader to not meddle in the U.S. electoral process.
“Yes, of course I will,” replied Trump who then, with a smile on his face, turned to the Russian president to say: “Don’t meddle in the election, president.” He then repeated “don’t meddle in the election,” while pointing a finger at Putin.
The exchange is likely to reinforce a perception among many that Trump does not take the issue seriously.
First post-Mueller report meeting
It was the first meeting between the two leaders since special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation concluded there was no conspiracy or coordination between Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign and Russian government officials.
Three U.S. intelligence agencies, however, jointly stated they were highly confident that Moscow orchestrated a sophisticated campaign to influence the election.
U.S. intelligence officials have also warned, repeatedly, that the Russian effort has not stopped, nor is it limited to elections.
"Moscow seeks to undermine our trust in information,” Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon told a conference in Washington Thursday, calling Russia a “significant cyber influence threat.”
“Moscow is now staging cyber attack access to position to disrupt or damage U.S. civilian and military infrastructure during a crisis," she added.
21st Century Arms Control
The White House says Trump and Putin, in their Friday meeting in Japan, reviewed the state of relations between the two countries and agreed they will continue discussion on a 21st century model of arms control, which Trump said should also include China. The White House says Trump and Putin also discussed the situations in Iran, Syria, Venezuela and Ukraine.
Last November, Trump canceled a meeting with Putin at the G-20 in Argentina after Russia seized two Ukrainian vessels and their crew members in the Sea of Azov, but the continued detention of those crew members does not appear to be deterring the leaders from meeting this time.
Japan, India, Germany start the day
Trump started his day with summit host Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, followed by short discussions with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, all of whom Trump criticized just hours before he landed in Osaka.
While reporters were in the meeting rooms, Trump, in his statements and answering questions from the journalists, refrained from harsh statements about the leaders and their countries.
“We’ll be discussing trade, we’ll be discussing military,” Trump said as he met with Abe.
Trump, recently, publicly criticized the U.S.-Japan defense alliance that has been in place since World War II.
“If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War Three. We will go in and protect them with our lives and with our treasure,” Trump said during a telephone interview with Fox Business News on Wednesday. “We will fight at all costs … but if we are attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch on a Sony television.”
The White House says Trump and Abe, however, “reaffirmed their commitment to U.S.-Japan coordination on shared security challenges, including on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran.”
In Trump’s meeting with Modi, “the leaders acknowledged the unprecedented breadth and depth of bilateral ties, including economic, trade, energy, defense and security, counterterrorism and space,” according to the White House.
Trump also met together with Abe and Modi. The three leaders did a joint fist bump for the reporters. Despite earlier complaining about India, Trump said he and Modi have become “great friends” and the two countries “have never been closer.”
As for Germany, Trump did repeat Berlin is not contributing enough toward the costs of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Merkel and Trump discussed issues “including Iran’s dangerous activity in the Middle East, stabilizing Libya and the Sahel region, and supporting economic reform in Ukraine. The two leaders also reviewed ongoing negotiations with China and establishing fair standards for global trade,” the White House says.
“She’s a fantastic person, a fantastic woman and I’m glad to have her as a friend,” Trump added.
On Saturday, Trump is scheduled to meet with China’s Xi Jinping to discuss trade after a breakdown in negotiations between Washington and Beijing and an escalation of tariffs by both countries on each other.
Trump, asked by VOA News during his meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro whether he expects Xi to put a trade deal offer on the table on Saturday, replied: “We’ll see what happens tomorrow. It’ll be a very exciting day, I’m sure, for a lot of people, including the world. … It’s going to come out hopefully well for both countries and ultimately it will work out.”
The U.S. president also said he has not agreed to not impose further sanctions on Beijing.
An eye on the Democratic debate
For some of the time, Trump’s mind partly appeared to be on the second consecutive day of televised debates being held in Miami, Florida, among Democratic Party candidates.
After a tweet between two of his meetings referencing the debate, Trump told reporters during his meeting with Merkel that “I just passed a television set on the way here and I saw that health care, and maximum health care was given to 100 percent of the illegal immigrants coming into our country by the Democrats. And, unfortunately, they didn’t discuss what they’re giving to American citizens. That’s not a good thing.”
During his subsequent meeting with Bolsonaro, Trump again mentioned he had seen part of the Thursday night debate.
“I wasn’t impressed,” he said. “It’s become the socialist party.”
Trump then quipped he had heard a rumor that the Democrats are going to change their name from the Democratic Party to the socialist party.”
Next stop, South Korea
After the summit, Trump flies to Seoul to discuss with South Korean President Moon Jae-in ways to ease tensions with North Korea.
There has been speculation that the U.S. president will make a visit to the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, but U.S. officials have ruled out a meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un while the U.S. president is on the peninsula.
Trump and Kim have met twice — in Singapore and Vietnam — but failed to reach any significant agreements.
The United States and North Korea have never signed a peace treaty. A three-year war on the peninsula in the early 1950s was halted with an armistice.