President Donald Trump canceled his planned bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which was slated to take place Saturday during the G-20 Summit in Argentina.
Trump indicated that the move was in response to the Russia’s seizing three Ukrainian ships and imprisoning 24 sailors in the Sea of Azoz, near the Crimean Peninsula, over the weekend.
He tweeted news of the cancellation from onboard Air Force One on his way to Buenos Aires.
“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin,” Trump wrote.
He added, “I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”
….in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2018
Prior to leaving for his trip, Trump sounded more positive that the meeting with Putin would take place during an exchange with reporters at the White House.
“I probably will meet with President Putin,” he said. “We haven’t terminated the meeting. I was thinking about it, but we haven’t. They’d like to have it. I think it’s a very good time to have the meeting.”
However, Trump offered the caveat, “I’m getting a full report on the plane as to what happened with respect to that, and that will determine what I’m going to be doing.”
Pres. Trump: I probably will meet with Pres. Putin. We haven’t terminated the meeting…they’d like to have it. I think it’s a very good time to have the meeting. I’m getting a full report on the plane as to what happened with respect to that, & that will determine what I’ll do. pic.twitter.com/SIboyoIiTF
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 29, 2018
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters traveling with the president that Trump’s decision was made after conferring with Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton.
Sanders added that Russia had been made aware of the decision.
“A Kremlin spokesperson told a Russian state media outlet that if the meeting was off, Putin would have several hours freed up for other important meetings,” USA Today reported.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were looking to Trump to take a much tougher stance toward Putin than he did during his Helsinki Summit with the Russian leader in July.
“It’s just about standing up for what we believe in because I think when you don’t stand up to Russia, or other countries that would take that kind of aggressive activity, they take from it that it’s somehow acceptable,” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told USA Today.
The top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, feels the cancellation means a lost opportunity.
“I would have liked him to meet Putin and challenge Putin, to find his spine as it relates to Putin’s violation of the international order,” Menendez told CNN. “What I wouldn’t want to see is another Helsinki performance. This was (Trump’s) opportunity to redeem himself…and instead he’s abdicating it.”
CNBC reported that Bolton said on Tuesday that Trump and Putin had planned to continue discussions begun in Helsinki on issues concerning arms control and other security issues.
Trump’s decision comes the same day special counsel Robert Mueller entered into a new plea agreement with former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen. Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress about a Moscow building project the Trump Organization was considering in early 2016.
Mueller made news two days before Trump was slated to meet with Putin in July by announcing the indictments of 12 Russian agents for allegedly interfering in the 2016 election.
The effect, then as now, was to raise the profile of the Russia investigation just as Trump was preparing to meet with the Russian leader.
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