BENOUVILLE, France (AP) — Add another awkward chapter to the long-running story of the tense relationship of President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This one came complete with a cameo from Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who became an unexpected buffer between the presidents.
The dignitaries were in France Friday for ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy. The commemorations coincided with heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Moscow's threatening moves in Ukraine.
Obama and Putin had a short conversation inside the French chateau where they attended a leaders' lunch, marking the first time they have spoken face-to-face since the Ukraine crisis began. But a public encounter during a pre-lunch photo highlighted the strain in the relationship, with Obama appearing to go out of his way to avoid contact with Putin despite coming within an arm's length of his Russian counterpart.
Obama was all smiles as the leaders gathered on the steps of the grand Chateau de Benouville for the group photo. He took his place in the front row next to Queen Elizabeth and waved and shook hands with other leaders.
But the U.S. leader steadfastly avoided any contact with Putin when the Russian leader took his place just a few feet away. French President Francois Hollande and Denmark's Queen Margrethe II joined the British monarch in serving as a shield between Obama and Putin.
As the photo ended, Obama lingered with Queen Elizabeth while Putin sidled up to Hollande for the short walk to lunch. But the two pairs were soon back to back, with Obama so close to Putin that he could have easily reached out and tapped him on the shoulder.
Instead, Obama continued his conversation with the 88-year-old queen. More than once, he slowed his steps, putting some distance between him and Putin.
No media were on hand for the Obama-Putin conversation inside the chateau, which aides described as informal. But the leaders were quickly back on public display during the day's main event, an elaborate ceremony on Sword Beach.
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