BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- President Donald Trump on Thursday abruptly canceled his planned meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, citing the unresolved naval standoff between Russia and Ukraine and upending his hopes of further cementing the relationship between the two leaders.
The president's decision to scrap the meeting was the latest twist in months of efforts to set up a session between the two leaders. Trump announced the cancellation in a Twitter message while on Air Force One flying to Buenos Aires for an economic summit, where he was scheduled to sit down with Putin. The Kremlin said it had not even been notified.
"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 on Twitter.
"I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!" he added.
Speaking with reporters on the South Lawn before leaving the White House, he sounded more positive about the session.
"I probably will be meeting with President Putin," he said. "I think it is a very good time to have a meeting." He added that he would be getting a report on Air Force One about the clash with Ukraine "and that will determine what I'm going to do."
Trump's decision was cheered by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. He later took to Twitter and wrote in English: "This is how great leaders act!"
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Air Force One that Trump did not make a decision until talking on board with Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as by phone with national security adviser John Bolton, who is in Brazil.
Sanders also told reporters that Trump's scheduled meetings at the G-20 with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would be downgraded to more informal "pull-aside" conversations.
That announcement appeared to surprise South Korean and Turkish officials and left them scrambling to find out more.
"A bilateral meeting will happen between the two presidents in Buenos Aires on the margins of the G-20 summit, as planned and as previously agreed," one Turkish official told The Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations. "We are not aware of any cancellation or downgrading."
Trump's scheduled meetings with the leaders of Argentina, China, Japan, India and Germany appear to still be moving forward as planned.
After Trump's tweet, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian reporters that they had seen Trump's Twitter posting but had no other word from the U.S. government.
"We don't have official information," he said, according to the Tass news agency. He added, "If this is so," then Putin "will have a few additional hours in the schedule for useful meetings on the sidelines of the summit."
The meeting was scrapped days after Russian forces seized three small Ukrainian naval vessels and more than 20 sailors, including at least three wounded in a shooting by the Russian side, and briefly blocked passage through the Kerch Strait. Ukraine's government declared temporary martial law.
While Trump had said earlier in the week that he was not happy about the aggression, he had left any stronger denunciation of Russia's action to his U.N. ambassador. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle had called on Trump to take a tougher stance and even cancel the meeting with Putin.
The two leaders were to get together while both were in Buenos Aires for the Group of 20 summit of large economic powers. It was to be their first meeting since they saw each other in Helsinki and Trump appeared to equate Putin's denial that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential elections with the firm conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that it did.
Trump had been trying to set up another meeting for months, first suggesting Putin visit the White House and later arranging to sit down together in Paris earlier this month, but neither idea went ahead. Instead, the two leaders settled on Buenos Aires for their next meeting.
The session was already freighted by multiple tension points between the two countries in addition to the lingering issue of the election meddling.
Trump recently declared that he would withdraw the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, citing Russian violations, an issue that was sure to come up. Syria and Iran were other flash points expected to be discussed.
Meanwhile, Poroshenko is urging NATO to deploy warships to the Sea of Azov, a proposal that has been sharply criticized by Russia as a provocation that could worsen tensions between the two countries.
In an interview published earlier Thursday with the German daily Bild, Poroshenko laid out his hope that NATO would "relocate naval ships to the Sea of Azov in order to assist Ukraine and provide security" against Putin's expansionist ambitions.
While condemning the Russian action, NATO is not expected to send ships to the area, a deployment that could trigger a confrontation with Russia. A 2003 treaty between Russia and Ukraine stipulates that permission from both countries is required for warships from anywhere else to enter the internal sea.
NATO spokesman Oana Lungescu said the alliance already has a strong presence in the region, and that NATO ships routinely patrol and conduct exercises in the Black Sea, especially those from Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey, which border the sea.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said early Thursday that she plans to press Putin at the G-20 summit to urge the release of the Ukrainian ships and crews and to de-escalate the situation.
"We can only resolve this in talks with one another because there is no military solution to all of these conflicts," she said.
It was not clear whether Merkel knew of Poroshenko's call for NATO's deployment when she spoke.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, said he discussed the possibility of a Turkish mediation to resolve tensions between Russia and Ukraine and had separate phone calls Thursday with Putin and Poroshenko.
Asked about the Turkish offer, Peskov responded that "Moscow is grateful to all those willing to help de-escalate the tensions provoked by the Ukrainian side, but doesn't see any need for mediation efforts."
"Those who have such opportunities could help by exerting influence on the Ukrainian authorities," Peskov said.
Information for this article was contributed by Peter Baker of The New York Times; by Anne Gearan, John Wagner, Amie Ferris-Rotman, Anton Troianovski, Natalia Abbakumova, William Branigin and David Nakamura of The Washington Post; and by Yuras Karmanau, Vladimir Isachenkov, Nataliya Vasilyeva, David Rising and Lorne Cook of The Associated Press.
A Section on 11/30/2018
Print Headline: Trump calls off Putin meeting