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White House fumes after Moscow releases Trump meeting pictures

WASHINGTON DC, USA (AFP) – Donald Trump’s administration was left red-faced Thursday after Moscow surprised it by releasing pictures of a closed-door meeting between the US president and Russia’s top diplomat.

The images – issued by the Russian state news agency TASS, and subsequently published by much of the global media – showed a grinning Trump shaking hands with Sergei Lavrov and the Russian ambassador in Washington, Sergei Kislyak, during an Oval Office meeting.

That Wednesday meeting was already being seen as a major diplomatic coup for the Kremlin, a red carpet welcome just months after being hit with US sanctions for meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Veteran diplomats questioned why Trump agreed to host the diplomats – a rare honor for non-heads of state, much less for those at the center of major US political scandal.

US administrations often treat Oval Office meetings as a type of currency, dangling the prospect of a high-profile sit-down to gain leverage or concessions in negotiations.

But the emergence of photos compounded the perception that Russia had won a diplomatic victory and that the Trump White House was outmaneuvered.

“Congrats Kollegi (colleagues) at getting these photos! Huge coup,” said former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul.

Publicly, the White House put on a brave face.

Trump “should be meeting with the foreign minister,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, lambasting critics.

“For them to try to attack him for doing his job, maybe they should spend a little more time doing their jobs and we wouldn’t have all the problems that we do.”

Privately though White House officials seethed at what they described as a breach of trust.

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