Trump aides deny summit with Putin planned

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two top aides to President-elect Donald Trump denied a published report on Saturday that he is planning to hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin weeks after taking office.

The Sunday Times of London reported that Trump had told British officials that such a summit was being planned, possibly to be staged in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik.

“The story is a fantasy,” one Trump aide told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. Another said the report was not true.

At the end of 2015, Vladimir Putin lauded Trump’s presidential campaign, calling him “an absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it.”

In response to Putin’s compliments Trump said: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

Putin has called Trump a “very outstanding man” and “unquestionably talented.”

When Russia continued its military buildup in Syria and Putin backed the country’s President Bashar al-Assad in 2015, Trump declared the Russian leader earned an “A” in leadership.

Trump not only gave the Russian leader an “A,” he also said Putin has been a better leader than US President Barack Obama. “He is really very much of a leader,” Trump said of Putin. “The man has very strong control over his country. Now, it’s a very different system, and I don’t happen to like the system, but certainly in that system he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”

At a national security forum in September, Trump explained his friendly relationship with Putin saying: “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.”

When asked about allegations that Putin orchestrated the deaths of his political opponents and journalists, Trump defended Putin: “I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody.”

After Trump won the election November 8, Putin sent the president-elect a telegram congratulating him on his victory.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, has spoken of seeking warmer relations with Russia.

He told the Wall Street Journal on Friday that he would “at least for a period of time” maintain sanctions against Russia put in place by President Barack Obama for cyber hacking.

But Trump suggested to the newspaper that he might lift the sanctions if Russia proved helpful in the fight against Islamic State militants and on other U.S. objectives.

Two of Trump’s cabinet picks, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis, have signaled a far harsher tone toward Moscow in their Senate confirmation hearings.

U.S. intelligence agencies blame Russia for cyber hacking that interfered with the U.S. presidential election. Trump has said he accepted the intelligence agencies’ conclusion.

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