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Trump, Kremlin say substantive meeting ‘unlikely’ in Paris

President Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation on July 16, 2018. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Both U.S. President Donald Trump and the Kremlin now say that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are unlikely to hold a substantive meeting in Paris on November 11.

A senior aide to Putin said last month that a preliminary agreement had been reached on a meeting between Putin and Trump, who will be in Paris for ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

But Trump said on November 5 that he will “probably not” have a meeting with Putin, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on November 6 that “a substantive meeting is unlikely to happen in Paris.”

“The schedule of the multilateral event to mark the centenary of the end of World war I does not allow the sides to hold such a meeting,” Peskov said.

He added, however, that “Putin and Trump may hold standing talks to determine when they will meet in a full-fledged format.”

He said, however, that “one way or another their paths will cross and they will [meet] on their feet and agree on when they can next meet to talk in detail.”

A July 16 summit in Helsinki was the only full-scale meeting the two presidents have held since Trump took office in January 2017.

The U.S. president faced widespread criticism for comments at the Helsinki summit press conference in which he suggested he believed Putin’s denials about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election that put him in office, contradicting conclusions by the U.S. intelligence community.

His term has been clouded by investigations into the alleged Russian meddling and whether his associates colluded with Moscow during and after the campaign.

Trump has repeatedly expressed hope for improvement in ties with Russia, which have been badly strained by disputes over issues that also include Moscow’s military interference in Ukraine and the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain.

Kremlin foreign-policy aide Yury Ushakov had earlier told reporters that Putin and White House national-security adviser John Bolton, who met with Putin in on October 23, had confirmed a preliminary agreement for the two heads of state to meet in Paris.

But Trump, speaking a day before U.S. midterm elections that will help shape the second half of his four-year term amid high tension in U.S. politics and society, said on November 5 that Russia and the United States “haven’t set anything up yet” for talks in Paris.

“We don’t know that that’s going to be the right place. I’m going to be in Paris for other reasons,” Trump said. “I’m not sure we’ll have a meeting in Paris. Probably not.”

Trump said he will meet Putin at a Group of 20 (G20) summit in Argentina on November 30-December 1, adding, “And probably we’ll have meetings after that — probably plenty of meetings.”

The Russian newspaper Kommersant quoted a European diplomat it did not identify as saying that French President Francois Macron asked Moscow and Washington not to arrange a major meeting in Paris on November 11 because it could overshadow the World War I anniversary events.

That report could not be verified, and there was no immediate comment from Macron’s office.

Peskov declined to comment on the report, saying that “in Paris there really will be many heads of state and government and a very heavy schedule of ceremonial and protocol events.”