WASHINGTON - The White House and Kremlin on Wednesday played down the significance of an additional, previously undisclosed meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin during this month's G20 summit.
The two powers united in their condemnation of reports questioning why the meeting was not disclosed.
"Once again, the Russia fever has caught up with the media and everybody ran out and tried to create a story that simply didn't exist," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
That message was echoed by her Kremlin counterpart Dmitry Peskov.
"The use of the terms 'secret' or 'confidential' for this meeting provokes absolute surprise and incomprehension." The meeting had been "officially accepted" by diplomatic channels, he added in comments reported by the Russia's TASS news agency.
"There was no secret and confidential meeting," he said. "To say so is absolutely absurd." After a brief greeting at the start of the two-day summit and a two-hour bilateral meeting with their foreign ministers on July 7, Trump and Putin also chatted over dinner on the final night of the summit, a US official said Tuesday.
The White House confirmed the political sensitive sit-down only after it was leaked.
That raised questions about what the pair talked about, who was present and why the meeting was not previously mentioned.
The Trump administration has been besieged by allegations that the president's closest advisors colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.
Trump's eldest son Donald Jr recently released emails showing he held a meeting during the campaign with Kremlin-connected figures, hoping to get dirt on his father's rival for the White House, Hillary Clinton.
Trump took to Twitter to blast the suggestion that there was anything improper about his dinner chat with Putin.
"Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is 'sick.' All G20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!" he declared.
"The Fake News is becoming more and more dishonest! Even a dinner arranged for top 20 leaders in Germany is made to look sinister!" At the dinner in Hamburg, Trump was seated between the wife of the prime Minister of Japan the wife of the president of Argentina.
US First Lady Melania Trump was seated next to President Putin." According to a US official "during the course of the dinner, all the leaders circulated throughout the room and spoke with one another freely." "President Trump spoke with many leaders during the course of the evening. As the dinner was concluding, President Trump went over to Mrs. Trump, where he spoke briefly with President Putin." Sanders denied reports that the sit-down lasted an hour, describing it as "brief." "We weren't following him around with a stopwatch," but "certainly not an hour," she said.
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