WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met at the presidential palace in Finland's capital Helsinki on Monday (July 16) for a summit with Mr Trump dogged by criticism at home over his stand on Russia.
"Diplomacy and engagement is preferable to conflict and hostility," President Trump told reporters at a joint press briefing, pushing back at objections at home to his meeting with Mr Putin.
"Disagreements between our two countries are well known and president Putin and I discussed them at length today," he added. "Our relationship has never been worse than it is now, however that changed as of four hours ago."
Referring to those in the US who are critical of his engagement with Russia, he said: "I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace rather than pursue politics at the risk of peace."
Mr Putin said: "Negotiations with the President of the United States took place in a frank and businesslike atmosphere; I think we can call it a success."
He said the meeting marked the first steps to restore "an acceptable level of trust and go back to previous level of interaction on all mutual interest issues".
He also said the relationship with the US was going through a complicated stage, and yet the impediments had no solid reason for them, he insisted. "The Cold War is a thing in the past. Ideological competition is a vestige of the past," he said.
Mr Putin denied meddling in the 2016 US presidential election - the focus of a probe in the US which Mr Trump has angrily condemned as a witch hunt.
"The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere," Mr Putin said. He also suggested Russian investigators could look into the US's allegations through a joint working group.
Last Friday in Washington, special counsel Robert Mueller, in his investigation of Russian interference and potential collusion by figures in the Trump campaign - the probe the President calls a witch hunt - released indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers, alleging they had interfered in the election.
Mr Putin denied knowing anything about the suspects, but in a response to a question about whether they would be extradited, said US investigators could come to Russia while they were questioned.
The two leaders met first with only translators present, before expanding the meeting to include top aides.
The agenda for the summit was open and wide ranging, but expectations were low. Both leaders however hailed it as a start to a process of repairing ties. Going forward, talks would include arms control, and cooperation on a range of issues including cybersecurity and terrorism.
Specifically on Syria, where Russia supports the regime of President Bashar al Assad, Mr Putin said "As far as Syria is concerned the task of establishing peace and reconciliation could be the first showcase… Russia and US could take leadership."
As he headed to Finland for the meeting following a Nato summit in Brussels and a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr Trump tweeted that no matter how well the Helsinki summit went he would "return to criticism that it wasn't good enough."
Some five hours ahead of the summit, referring to the questions he faces at home over Russia's interference in the 2016 election that brought him to power, President Trump tweeted: "Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!"
Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded with a brief tweet saying "We agree."
At the press conference Mr Trump lashed out again at the probe, saying "It's a disaster for our country."
"It has had a negative impact on the relationship between the two largest nuclear powers in the world."