U.S. President Donald Trump said he believed President Vladimir Putin when he denied accusations that Russia meddled in last year’s U.S. election after the two met briefly at a summit in Vietnam on Saturday and agreed a statement on Syria.
DANANG, Vietnam (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said he believed President Vladimir Putin when he denied accusations that Russia meddled in last year’s U.S. election after the two met briefly at a summit in Vietnam on Saturday and agreed a statement on Syria.
It was their first encounter since July and came during a low in U.S.-Russia relations and at a time Trump is haunted by an investigation into accusations that Putin influenced the election that brought him to the White House.
Putin reiterated the denials of interference, Trump said.
“Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One after leaving the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the resort of Danang.
“I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country,” Trump said.
Trump, who has called allegations of campaign collusion with Moscow a hoax, has faced questions from Democrats about the matter since he took office. A special counsel, Robert Mueller, is conducting a probe that has led to charges against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates.
U.S. intelligence agencies have also concluded Russians interfered in the election to tip the election in Trump’s favor through hacking and releasing emails to embarrass Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and spreading social media propaganda.
Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in the election.
In Danang, Putin told reporters an alleged link between Manafort and Russia was being fabricated by Trump’s opponents.
Putin dismissed suggestions Russia influenced the elections through political advertising. Tech companies, including Facebook, have said some Russian-bought political content spread on their platforms around the time of the election.
“There is no confirmation of our mass media meddling in election campaigns – and there can’t be any,” Putin said.
After emphasizing last year on the campaign trail that it would be nice if the United States and Russia could work together, Trump has had limited contact with Putin since taking office.
In Vietnam, Trump and Putin agreed a joint statement supporting a political solution to the war in Syria.
“We did it very quickly,” Trump told reporters “We seem to have a very good feeling for each other, a good relationship considering we don’t know each other well.”
Talking after their meeting, Putin described Trump as “a well-mannered person and comfortable to deal with”.
“We know each other little, but the U.S. president is highly civil in his behavior, friendly. We have a normal dialogue but unfortunately little time,” he said.
Trump said they had two or three very short conversations.
They were seen chatting amicably as they walked to the position where the traditional APEC summit photo was being taken at a viewpoint looking over the South China Sea.
Pictures from the APEC meeting also showed Trump walking up to Putin at the summit table and patting him on the back. They also shook hands at the summit dinner on Friday evening.
The Kremlin said their statement on Syria was coordinated especially for the meeting in Danang.
With Islamic State having suffered losses in Syria and beyond, greater attention is turning to the broader conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebel factions.
They confirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and called on all parties to the Syrian conflict to take an active part in the Geneva political process, it said.
Additional reporting by Steve Holland in DANANG and Maria Kiselyova in MOSCOW; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Hugh Lawson
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