Putin ‘in­sulted’ by claims that Rus­sia med­dled in US poll

Trump says he is pre­pared to be­lieve Moscow as­sur­ances — ig­nor­ing his own in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, writes Ju­lia Colvin

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - WORLDWIDE -

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump yes­ter­day said that Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin once again ve­he­mently de­nied in­ter­fer­ing in the 2016 US elec­tions dur­ing their dis­cus­sions on the side­lines of an eco­nomic sum­mit.

Trump de­clined to say whether he be­lieved Putin, but made clear he’s not in­ter­ested in dwelling on the is­sue.

“He said he ab­so­lutely did not med­dle in our elec­tion. He did not do what they are say­ing he did,” Trump said of Putin, speak­ing with re­porters aboard Air Force One as he trav­eled to Hanoi, the sec­ondto-last stop of his Asia trip.

“Ev­ery time he sees me, he said: ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I be­lieve, I re­ally be­lieve that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said, not­ing that Putin is “very in­sulted” by the ac­cu­sa­tion.

Trump called the al­le­ga­tion an “ar­ti­fi­cial bar­rier” erected by Democrats — once again cast­ing doubt on the US in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s con­clu­sion that Rus­sia tried to in­ter­fere in the elec­tion to help Trump win.

Trump and Putin didn’t have a for­mal meet­ing while they were in Viet­nam for the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion sum­mit — how­ever the two lead­ers spoke in­for­mally sev­eral times on the event’s side­lines and reached an agree­ment on a num­ber of prin­ci­ples for the fu­ture of war-torn Syria.

But Trump made clear that the is­sue of Rus­sian med­dling in the elec­tion hov­ers over the lead­ers’ re­la­tion­ship and said it jeop­ar­dised their abil­ity to work to­gether on is­sues in­clud­ing North Korea’s es­ca­lat­ing nu­clear pro­gram and the deadly con­flict in Syria.

“Hav­ing a good re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia’s a great, great thing. And this ar­ti­fi­cial Demo­cratic hit job gets in the way,” Trump told re­porters. “Peo­ple will die be­cause of it.”

Trump danced around the ques­tion of whether he be­lieved Putin’s de­nials, telling re­porters that press­ing the is­sue would have ac­com­plished lit­tle.

“Well, look, I can’t stand there and ar­gue with him,” Trump said. “I’d rather have him get out of Syria, to be hon­est with you. I’d rather have him, you know, work with him on the Ukraine than stand­ing and ar­gu­ing about whether or not — ’cause that whole thing was set up by the Democrats.”

Mul­ti­ple US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have con­cluded that Moscow med­dled in the 2016 elec­tion to try to help Trump win. But Trump called the for­mer heads of those agen­cies “po­lit­i­cal hacks” and ar­gued there’s plenty of rea­son to be sus­pi­cious of their find­ings.

Trump’s sug­ges­tion that he may be­lieve Putin over his own na­tion’s in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity is cer­tain to reignite the firestorm over the is­sue of elec­tion med­dling.

Mean­while, a spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion of po­ten­tial col­lu­sion be­tween Moscow and Trump cam­paign aides so far has re­sulted in two in­dict­ments for fi­nan­cial and other crimes un­re­lated to the cam­paign, as well as a guilty plea. Con­gres­sional com­mit­tees have also been in­ter­view­ing cam­paign and White House staff.

Ear­lier, the Krem­lin is­sued a state­ment say­ing the lead­ers had reached agree­ment on prin­ci­ples for Syria’s fu­ture now that the so-called Is­lamic State group has largely been pushed out.

Among the agree­ments’ key points, ac­cord­ing to the Rus­sians, were an af­firma tion of de-es­ca­la­tion zones, a sys­tem to pre­vent dan­ger­ous in­ci­dents be­tween Amer­i­can and Rus­sian forces, and a com­mit­ment to a peace­ful so­lu­tion gov­erned by a Geneva peace process.

The Krem­lin quickly pro­moted the agree­ment as the White House stayed silent. Trump told re­porters that the deal was reached “very quickly” and that it would save “tremen­dous num­bers of lives”. And he praised his re­la­tion­ship with Putin, say­ing the two “seem to have a very good feel­ing for each other and a good re­la­tion­ship, con­sid­er­ing we don’t know each other well”.

Snip­pets of video from the sum­mit in the sea­side city Danang showed Trump and Putin shak­ing hands and chat­ting, in­clud­ing dur­ing the world lead­ers’ tra­di­tional group photo. The two walked to­gether down a path to the photo site, con­vers­ing ami­ably, with Trump punc­tu­at­ing his thoughts with hand ges­tures and Putin smil­ing.

Jour­nal­ists trav­el­ing with Trump were not granted ac­cess to any of the APEC events he par­tic­i­pated in Satur­day.

White House of­fi­cials had worked qui­etly be­hind the scenes ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Krem­lin on the prospect of a for­mal meet­ing. The Rus­sians raised ex­pec­ta­tions for such a session and Trump told re­porters aboard Air Force One en route to Asia that it was “ex­pected we’ll meet with Putin” to dis­cuss is­sues in­clud­ing ramp­ing up pres­sure on North Korea to halt its nu­clear and bal­lis­tic weapons pro­gram.

As spec­u­la­tion built, the two sides tried to craft the frame­work of a deal on a path to re­solve Syria’s civil war once the Is­lamic State group is de­feated that Trump and Putin could an­nounce in a for­mal bi­lat­eral meet­ing, ac­cord­ing to two ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials not au­tho­rised to speak pub­licly about pri­vate dis­cus­sions and who talked on con­di­tion of anonymity.

But the talks stalled and, min­utes be­fore Air Force One touched down in Viet­nam, White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders told re­porters the meet­ing was off.

Trump’s visit to Hanoi be­gan with a state diner dur­ing which he show­ered the coun­try with praise, say­ing it has “truly be­come one of the great mir­a­cles of the world.”

To­day, he’ll meet with the coun­try’s pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter be­fore head­ing to his last stop: the Philip­pines, where he will meet with Philip­pine pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, whose bloody war on drugs has led to the deaths of more than 12,000 Filipinos.

‘Well, look, I can’t stand there and ar­gue with him. I’d rather have him get out of Syria, to be hon­est with you...’

MEET­ING: Don­ald Trump

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.