WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump has backtracked on his push for a cyber security unit with Russia, tweeting that he did not think it could happen, only hours after promoting it following talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He said earlier on Sunday (July 9) that he and Putin had discussed forming a cyber security unit, an idea harshly criticised by Republicans who said Moscow could not be trusted after its alleged meddling in the 2016 United States election.
The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't-but a ceasefire can,& did!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2017
But hours later, he tweeted, "The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't." He then noted that an agreement with Russia for a ceasefire in Syria "can & did" happen.
Allegations of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia have cast a shadow over Mr Trump’s first five months in office, distracting from attempts by his fellow Republicans in Congress to overhaul US healthcare and tax systems.
The Kremlin has denied US intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Moscow tried to tilt the election in Mr Trump’s favour, using means such as hacking into the e-mails of senior Democrats.
Mr Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion. The allegations came up during his meeting on Friday with Mr Putin, but the two agreed to focus on better ties rather than litigating the past.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Mr Trump accepted Mr Putin’s assertions that the allegations of Russian meddling were false.
The controversy flared up over the weekend, with a New York Times report that Mr Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr agreed to meet with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the 2016 campaign after being promised damaging information about Mrs Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate in the presidential race.
The New York Times, citing three advisers to the White House, reported on Sunday that Mr Trump’s then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his son-in-law Jared Kushner also attended the meeting at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Mr Trump won the Republican nomination.
The Times quoted a statement from Mr Donald Trump Jr in which he acknowledged meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
“After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs Clinton,” the Times quoted him as saying.
Mr Trump Jr was quoted saying he believed information on Mrs Clinton was only a pretext for the meeting. The Times said it was unclear whether Ms Veselnitskaya produced the promised compromising information about Mrs Clinton.
“Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
The Times said Ms Veselnitskaya then turned the conversation to the adoption of Russian children and a US law blacklisting Russians linked to alleged human-rights abuses.
President Trump was “not aware of and did not attend” the meeting reported by the Times, Mr Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Mr Trump’s legal team, said in an e-mailed statement.
The Times said it was unclear whether Ms Veselnitskaya produced the promised compromising information about Mrs Clinton.
Mr Trump Jr told the Times he did not tell Mr Manafort and Mr Kushner what the meeting was about when he asked them to attend.
Representatives for Mr Manafort and Mr Kushner did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ request for comment.