Russia confirms Putin and Trump talked of joint cybersecurity unit
US president backtracks on proposal, saying he does not think it could happen, after harsh criticism from some senior Republicans
Moscow — Russia confirmed on Monday that President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin had discussed forming a joint Russian-US group on cybersecurity, an idea that provoked uproar in Washington, but said it was only a tentative proposal.
Trump said on Twitter early on Sunday that the two leaders discussed forming "an impenetrable Cyber Security unit" when they met at the Hamburg Group of 20 summit.
The idea was greeted with incredulity by some senior Republicans, who said Moscow could not be trusted. Trump later in the day tweeted he did not think it could happen.
"The heads of state did talk about such a possibility," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters on Monday.
"Nothing was promised to each other," he said. "What is positive, they stated their readiness to work in this direction." The conversation had been "about the possibility of forming such a group. Whether it will be created or not, time will show," he said.
Svetlana Lukash, a Russian official who was at the Hamburg summit, said Putin and Trump’s discussion of cybersecurity had taken up 40 minutes of their meeting, which lasted more than two hours.
"President Putin proposed creating a working group. This does not mean it should start working immediately, virtually tomorrow," Lukash said. "The main thing is, this matter was discussed, the US is ready to consider co-operation in this sphere and then we will see.
"Maybe this will be a working group, maybe this will be co-operation on the floor of the UN. But in any case, our two countries will need to discuss these questions. This is namely what the presidents agreed upon."
She said of the talks between the two men in Hamburg: "Nobody, except the participants of that meeting, knows how that proposal was formulated and how President Trump reacted."
Some media reports might have prematurely assumed that the creation of a joint commission on cybersecurity was already decided, she said.
"That was a proposal. Probably, he [Trump] is not ready yet for this initiative," Lukash said.
Trump’s administration has been dogged by investigations into allegations of Russian interference in 2016’s US election and ties with his campaign.
Peskov told reporters the Kremlin did not know the identity of the Russian lawyer who allegedly met Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr; Trump’s election campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in 2016.
The New York Times said on Sunday that Trump’s associates met with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on June 9, two weeks after Trump won the Republican nomination, after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.