U.S. President Donald Trump said that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is “insulted” by claims that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
In comments to reporters on Air Force One following the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Vietnamese resort of Danang, Trump was asked whether he had discussed the allegations of election meddling with Putin.
"He said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election," said Trump, as cited by the Associated Press.
"He did not do what they are saying he did... 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. I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country."
Trump’s claim seems to place him odds with U.S. intelligence agencies, which have concluded that Russia attempted to tip the election to Trump’s advantage. Multiple investigations are underway to establish if the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
Earlier in November, Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was one of three former Trump aides indicted as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Speaking to reporters, Trump blamed Democrats for creating an “artificial barrier” to U.S.-Russian relations by accusing Russia of meddling in the 2016 election.
He said that the accusations about Russian meddling were getting in the way of his ability to work with the Kremlin on a range of international challenges.
“If we can save many, many, many lives by making a deal with Russia having to do with Syria, and then ultimately getting Syria solved and getting Ukraine solved and doing other things, having a good relationship with Russia’s a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way,” he says, adding that, “people will die because of it.”
Television pictures from Danang Saturday showed Putin and Trump chatting, apparently 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.
Earlier pictures from the meeting show Trump walking up to Putin as he sits at the summit table and patting him on the back. The two lean in to speak to each other and clasp each other briefly as they exchange a few words.
Although the White House had said no official meeting was planned, it also said it was possible they would bump into each other.
The met previously on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg in July, where Trump said he confronted Putin about accusations of election meddling, and Putin denied them.
Putin and Trump agreed a joint statement on Syria on Saturday that said they saw no military solution to the conflict and a political one was needed, the Kremlin said.
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the Kremlin announcement or the conversation the Kremlin said took place on the sidelines of the APEC summit.
The Kremlin said the statement on Syria was coordinated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson especially for the meeting in Danang.
With the Islamic State group suffering catastrophic losses in Syria and Iraq, attention is switching to the broader conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebel factions.
Putin and Trump agreed to continue joint efforts to fight Islamic State, the Kremlin statement said.
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. Moscow and Washington agree there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict, according to the text of the joint statement published on the Kremlin’s website.
It said the leaders “had a conversation before the group photo ceremony for the APEC Economic Leaders.”
Trump’s entourage made no comment before he left Danang for Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, the next step on his 12-day tour of Asia.
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