President Donald Trump‘s face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin stretched on for more than two hours – and was quickly followed by news the U.S. and Russia had reached an agreement on a cease fire in Syria.
The closely-watched meeting had only been scheduled to run for 30 minutes. Instead, it ran for two hours and sixteen minutes.
The cease fire is to take effect Sunday at noon in Damascus, the Associated Press reported, without adding further details. Israel and Jordan were reported to be part of the agreement. The agreement had been in the works for months.
The sign of possible progress in Syria – where Russia is the primary backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – came more than two hours after Trump said it was ‘an honor’ to meet Putin.
The deal, confirmed by three U.S. officials, is distinct from a plan for “de-escalation zones” that were part of a Russia-brokered deal that did not include the U.S.
Putin told Russian state media that cybercrime was among the topics discussed. Others topics included Ukraine and countering terrorism, Putin said.
Putin told the president he was ‘delighted’ to meet for the first time. And with that, the dance was on.
The two leaders of nations that once squared off in Cold War iciness sat down in a neutral setting Friday, representing their nations at the G20 in Hamburg, Germany.
The men’s first high-stakes handshake had happened hours earlier in a backstage moment captured by a German government photographer.
With the drama all but gone, Trump and Putin sat before cameras in advance of a meeting that was expected to last more than a half-hour.
Accompanying each man was the smallest of entourages: for Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and a translator, and for Putin, his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, and a translator.
On the agenda, according to White House officials, was everything from the Ukraine to NATO arms buildups.
But administration insiders wouldn’t say if the president planned to upbraid his Moscow counterpart for meddling in the election that brought him to power.
And Trump ignored reporters’ questions about whether he would raise the uncomfortable but geopolitically crucial topic.
Democrats have criticized Trump for taking office under a cloud of controversy, saying the Kremlin installed him in the White House through a series of computer hacking exploits aimed at weakening Hillary Clinton and raising doubts about U.S. election integrity.
Republicans have largely insisted Trump won the Oval Office because Clinton was a weak candidate who ignored the lessons of U.S. electoral history.
As history yields to future, Trump and Putin will inevitably have to get a practical feel for each other, at a time when most of the world imagines them as yin and yang – opposite, but deeply familiar.
One administration official said Friday that Trump ‘would be happy to listen a bit, before making demands, since the two men really don’t know each other.’
A second official said the president would go into the meeting with a ‘mental checklist’ of things to discuss, but that the short window of time meant they would likely have ‘only enough space to establish a working relationship.’
Trump said repeatedly during his campaign that it would be ‘a good thing’ for the United States if Washington and Moscow had a relationship based on more than mutual distrust.
On Friday he told journalists: ‘We’ve had some very, very good talks.’
Through a translator, Putin said phone calls to the White House ‘are never enough, definitely.’
‘I’m delighted to be able to meet you personally – and I hope that as you have said our meetings will yield positive results.’
The first meeting was less choreographed and far less anticipated.
The German government captured the ordinarily hidden first handshakes and back-slaps by mounting a video camera on top of an official photographer’s camera.
Trump was seen shaking Putin’s hand, while using his left hand to pat the underside of Putin’s arm.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, facing them from the other side of a cocktail table, leaned obliviously while the two men appear to chuckle at a private joke.
The surprising gesture was more familiar than anything else shown on the 40-second video clip, which was first published on Facebook.
When Putin greeted UK Prime Minister Theresa May, for instance, the handshake is formal, curt and respectful – with the leaders bowing to each other slightly.
But when Trump came up to the same table to see Putin, the how-do-you-do is more congenial – the stuff of fishing buddies or bowling teammates.
In a later clip, Trump was shown extending his left arm to pat Putin’s back while he smiles broadly.
Until Thursday, the two men had reportedly never met. Trump is trying to establish a rapport with Putin, one White House aide said Friday, in the hope that the two men can reach a detente and avoid a new Cold War.
But the US president’s critics warn that Putin, a former KGB spymaster, is a master of manipulation who can meet every Trump volley with an overhand smash.
The footage was shot during the leaders’ ‘retreat’ – an informal gathering before the more consequential meetings that form the basis of G20 policy discussions.