Trump hails change in relationship with Russia

The ball is in the American court, said a beaming Russian President Vladimir Putin while handing a football to US President Donald Trump as they held a joint news conference after their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki yesterday. “Diplomacy and engag
The ball is in the American court, said a beaming Russian President Vladimir Putin while handing a football to US President Donald Trump as they held a joint news conference after their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki yesterday. “Diplomacy and engagement is preferable to conflict and hostility,” President Trump told reporters. PHOTO: REUTERS

He defends Russia over poll interference, contradicting his own intelligence agencies

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Finland's capital Helsinki yesterday for a summit, amid criticisms at home for Mr Trump over his views on Russia.

"Diplomacy and engagement is preferable to conflict and hostility," President Trump told reporters at a joint press briefing, pushing back at those objections.

"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 his critics about 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."

Making his opening statement, 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. "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 US probe which Mr Trump has condemned as a witch-hunt - while Mr Trump evaded a question about whether he would believe the Russian President over his own country's intelligence agencies.

"The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere," Mr Putin said. He also suggested that Russian investigators could look into the US allegations through a joint working group.

Last Friday in Washington, Special Counsel Robert Mueller released indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers on allegations of election interference.

 
 
 
 

Mr Putin denied knowing anything about the suspects, but in a response to whether they would be extradited, he said US investigators could go 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, though expectations were low. Both leaders, however, hailed it as a start. Going forward, talks would include arms control, and cooperation on a range of issues including cyber security and terrorism.

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."

Playfully, he handed a football to Mr Trump - beaming with Russia's success in holding the World Cup - and said the ball was in the US court.

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 had tweeted that no matter how well it went, he would "return to criticism it wasn't good enough".

Referring to the questions he faces at home over Russia's interference in the 2016 polls that brought him to power, Mr 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."

SEE TOP OF THE NEWS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2018, with the headline 'Trump hails change in relationship with Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe