Obama, Putin come face-to-face in France at D-Day event
A much anticipated encounter between President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, came on the sidelines of a lunch held Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
It’s not known what the pair — whose relationship has been strained by Russia’s actions in Ukraine — discussed.
But the conversation, described by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes as informal, lasted 10 to 15 minutes.
Speculation had been brewing that the two leaders would meet, despite apparently elaborate steps taken by Francois Hollande to avoid a tense encounter.
On Thursday evening, the French president dined with Obama before hosting a separate dinner with Putin. Talk about awkward dinner parties.
The pair were also seated well apart for the lunch. With Hollande and the queens of Britain and Denmark between them, the two seemed unlikely to have to converse unless they wanted to.
The D-Day events have also brought Putin and Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko together in their first face-to-face meeting.
They talked briefly before the leaders went to the D-Day lunch, although it was not clear what they discussed. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood with them as they spoke.
Putin and Poroshenko shook hands before their informal exchange, Hollande’s office told CNN.
No interaction was seen between Obama and Putin at that point.
The leaders will all attend an international ceremony at Sword Beach on Friday afternoon, one of the beaches where the historic invasion was staged.
‘Lane of international law’
Speaking Thursday in Brussels, Belgium, Obama said he and Putin were likely to cross paths in France, although no formal meeting was planned.
Obama said then that if they spoke, he would give Putin the same message on Ukraine that he has given him in phone calls over past weeks and in his public statements.
Putin “has a chance to get back into a lane of international law,” he said.
Obama said Putin could start by recognizing Poroshenko, stopping the flow of weapons over the border into Ukraine and ceasing Russian support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
Putin, in an interview with French television station TF1, also did not discount the possibility of meeting with Obama.
“As for my relations with Barack Obama, I have no reason whatsoever to believe he is not willing to talk to the President of Russia,” he said. “But ultimately, it is his choice. I am always ready for dialogue, and I think that dialogue is the best way to bridge any gaps.”