President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have shaken hands at a summit in Vietnam, amid conflicting reports from the Kremlin and the White House over whether the pair would meet.
The two leaders were spotted on video greeting one another ahead of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit gala dinner in the coastal city of Danang.
Both sides previously expressed interest in a meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Da Nang, but an agreement on the details was not forthcoming. As Mr Trump was about to land on Friday, the White House announced no meeting would take place.
Mr Trump’s presidency has been dogged by allegations that his election campaign colluded with Russia to help him get into the White House.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists earlier on Friday that although discussion was continuing between the two retinues, the leaders would be sure to speak.
“For now there is no clarity. Contradictory information has been coming from our American colleagues,” Mr Peskov said. “The meeting will happen on the sidelines one way or another.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told journalists on Friday that Mr Trump would not meet formally with his Russian counterpart, but left the door open for a more impromptu chat.
“Are they going to bump into each other and say hello? Certainly possible and likely,” Ms Sanders said.
Mr Trump’s relationship with Russia is under intense scrutiny in Washington, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation hit three former Trump advisors with charges related to Russia and Ukraine late last month.
Last weekend, the president said he expected to meet with Mr Putin in Vietnam and wanted his help in raising pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme.
But secretary of state Rex Tillerson appeared to walk that back on Thursday, when he said the meeting was “still under consideration”.
Also on Thursday, Mr Putin said the United States was attempting to interfere in Russia’s presidential election next year through accusations of doping in sport.
An aide to Mr Putin said on Thursday that he and Mr Trump could discuss Syria and North Korea at the forum. The two presidents met in July on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.