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Putin leaves World Cup ball in Trump’s half

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US President Donald Trump threw the soccer ball he received from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to aides, saying he would keep it for his 12-year-old son © AFP / Brendan SMIALOWSKI

HELSINKI, Finland, Jul 16Russia’s President Vladimir Putin tried to lighten the mood at a post-summit news conference with American leader Donald Trump on Monday by tossing him a World Cup football.

Trump had congratulated his opposite number on Russia’s successful hosting of the competition, which came to a climax on Sunday a day before the Helsinki summit.

Facing a barrage of questions about the war in Syrian and Russia’s alleged role in Trump’s 2016 election victory, both men broke into brief smiles as the Kremlin chief handed over the souvenir.

“Speaking about having the ball in our court in Syria,” Putin said, in an awkward change of subject. “President Trump has just mentioned that we’ve successfully concluded the football World Cup.

“Speaking of football, actually, Mr President, I will give the ball to you and now the ball is in your court. All the more as the United States will host the World Cup in 2026.”

A man displaying a placard reading “nuclear weapons ban treaty” was escorted out of the room ahead of a joint press conference by the US and Russian presidents at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki © AFP / Brendan Smialowski

Trump cheerfully returned the compliment, saying he hoped the United States would host an equally successful competition, and promised to give the ball to his 12-year-old son Barron.

The exchange appeared to amuse the two leaders but it did not go down so well back in Washington, where many figures from both sides of the political spectrum felt Trump had been too trusting of Putin’s denials of covert interference.

“If it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House,” hawkish Republican Senator Lyndsey Graham said on Twitter.

In a separate incident shortly before the presidents arrived for the news conference an apparent protester was dragged away by security bearing a sign referring to the nuclear test ban treaty.

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