President Donald Trump has scrapped nearly half of his official meeting schedule before he’s even stepped one toe onto Argentinian soil for this week’s G20 leadership summit in Buenos Aires.
First, the president announced via Twitter this morning that he is canceling his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Kerch Strait incident. Shortly after leaving the White House and arriving at Joint Base Andrews, where he boarded Air Force One to leave for Argentina, the president tweeted:
“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. I look forward to a meaningful summit again as soon as this situation is resolved.”
A short time after the tweet was sent out, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov issued the following responsive statement:
“We’ve only seen the tweet and reports. We don’t have any official information. If that’s the case, the president (Putin) will have a couple extra hours in his schedule for useful meetings.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later told the press pool aboard Air Force One that the decision to cancel the meeting was made after the president consulted with Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser John Bolton. The U.S. national security chief was in Brazil, where he had been meeting with President-elect Jair Bolsonaro and his national security team, at the time the decision was made.
Sanders said she wasn’t aware of a direct call between Trump and Putin after the decision to cancel the meeting was made, but said Washington had communicated the scheduling change through official channels. Not long thereafter, she announced the president had also scrapped plans for official meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
No explanation was given for the sudden change of plans.
Those meetings are being replaced with less formal “pull-aside” meetings that will likely be much shorter in duration. The scheduling changes have prompted some to speculate that perhaps the president is attempting to open up more time to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has cast a controversial shadow of his own on the G20 gathering, or to perhaps engage in more direct negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping over trade, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and the denuclearization of North Korea.