HANOI • United States President Donald Trump said his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin told him that "he didn't meddle" in US elections that propelled the billionaire former reality TV star to the White House.
Mr Trump's relationship with Moscow has stalked the first year of his presidency, with key former aides under a US probe for alleged collaboration with the Kremlin.
Mr Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associate are under house arrest on charges including conspiracy to launder money, linked to the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into allegations that the campaign colluded with Russia.
The US leader had "two or three" brief conversations with Mr Putin on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in the Vietnamese city of Danang, Mr Trump told reporters on Air Force One yesterday on the way to a state visit in Hanoi.
The conversations mostly centred on the war in Syria, Mr Trump said, but he added that he pressed Mr Putin on Moscow's role in attempting to tamper with the US elections.
"He said he didn't meddle," Mr Trump said. "I asked him again. You can only ask so many times... He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did."
Mr Trump explained that Mr Putin reiterates his denial "every time" the pair meet, adding that his counterpart seems "very insulted" by the persistent allegations. But he would not be drawn on whether he believes the Russian strongman.
Social media giants Twitter and Facebook have said paid-for and free content with Russian links carrying divisive election-related messages spun across their platforms ahead of the crunch poll.
Overly amicable talks between the two presidents would be an awkward sell for the White House as it denies any wrongdoing.
Instead a delicate diplomatic dance has been on show, giving glimpses of a warm relationship but no substantive talks.
The two have met in Danang three times since last Friday, when they posed for a photo side by side in loose-fitting blue shirts custom-made for the summit.
They again warmly shook hands yesterday morning as leaders sat down for talks, then briefly chatted as they walked to a podium for a "family photo" of attendees.
Moscow's top diplomat Sergei Lavrov also had a short meeting with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson.
Asked to give details on their talks, Mr Lavrov said: "I can, but I wouldn't."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST