DANANG: Russia and the US failed to agree on a meeting between their leaders on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit Friday, with the White House ruling out an encounter while Moscow's top diplomat slammed Washington "penpushers" for sending mixed messages.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have plummeted as a US probe has accused Trump's former campaign aides of secretly meeting Kremlin-connected officials -- a charge Russia denies.
Both leaders are attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in the Vietnamese city of Danang and there have been conflicting indications in recent days on whether a face-to-face was on the cards.
The issue appeared to be finally settled shortly before Trump's touchdown in Danang on Friday afternoon when press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders briefed reporters on board Air Force One that there was not enough time for the pair to meet.
"There was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides," she said.
But Putin's team said a tete-a-tete could still take place.
"There is contradictory information coming from our American colleagues," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters after Sanders' comments.
"In any case, a meeting will take place on the sidelines," he added.
Pressed later by Russian reporters on the issue, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov swatted away the question.
"Why are you asking me? We are saying that we have heard President Trump's wish to meet President Putin, expressed by President Trump himself."
"I do not know what the rest of his penpushers are saying, I cannot answer that."
Trump's relationship with Moscow has haunted the first year of his administration.
His former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associate are under house arrest on charges including conspiracy to launder money, linked to the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into allegations that the campaign colluded with Russia.
Russia has denied allegations of interfering in the US election last year that brought Trump to power.
Both Moscow and Trump had previously suggested that talks were likely to take place.
On Sunday the US president said "it's expected we'll meet with Putin" to discuss North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Four days later Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told Russian news agencies that the two would hold a meeting in Vietnam with the time and place still to be determined.
But hours later US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said no decision had been made on talks, which would be the first between the two men since they met at the G20 summit in Germany in July.