Trump again praises Putin summit as 'success' despite uproar

2018-07-19 05:14

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday insisted his summit with Vladimir Putin had been a success, despite the uproar over his apparent acceptance of the Russian leader's denial of election meddling – and criticism of his convoluted efforts to explain away his comments.

And in a move that could trigger further international worry, he also cast doubt on US commitment to NATO's central principle of mutual defence, calling out new member Montenegro and warning that its "very aggressive" people could draw the alliance into war with Russia.

Trump was due to face the media once again on Wednesday at the start of a White House meeting with his cabinet.

With a firestorm raging over the summit – and particularly the press conference that followed in which Trump failed to confront Putin or hold him to account – the US president backpedaled on Tuesday.

But by Wednesday, he was citing the "many positive things" he expects to come from the summit, where Trump and Putin met privately for some two hours, apparently with no one else present but their translators.

"While the NATO meeting in Brussels was an acknowledged triumph, with billions of dollars more being put up by member countries at a faster pace, the meeting with Russia may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success," Trump tweeted ahead of the cabinet meeting.

"So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki," Trump added.

"Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia. They would rather go to war than see this," he said. "It's called Trump Derangement Syndrome!"

'Double negative'

At their meeting in Helsinki on Monday, Trump failed to challenge Putin over the 2016 presidential election, seeming to accept at face value the strongman's denial that Moscow interfered in a bid to undermine Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

But faced with outrage at home, with even some of his political allies demanding that he reverse course, Trump – in an extraordinary postscript to the high-stakes summit – sought to walk back his remarks on Tuesday.

Trump said he accepted the intelligence community's assessment that Russia had meddled in the election, and offered a rambling explanation of his assertion that he could not see "any reason" why Russia would interfere.

"In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't'," Trump said, speaking at the White House ahead of a meeting with Republican lawmakers.

"The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.' Sort of a double negative," he added.

Even as he dialed down the rhetoric, he raised fresh NATO questions by offering a gibe about Montenegro, suggesting he would be displeased about having to defend the "tiny" nation if need be.

When Fox host Tucker Carlson asked Trump in an interview why his son should have to go to Montenegro to defend it from attack, Trump shared the sentiment.

"I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question," Trump said.

"Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people... They're very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you're in World War III."

Moscow has been accused of meddling in Montenegro's elections, and a failed 2016 coup was allegedly planned by pro-Russian militants.

'Damaging' remarks

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign has increasingly put pressure on the White House.

The president – who regards the probe as an attack on his legitimacy – has dubbed it a "witch hunt", and again said on Tuesday there was "no collusion at all".

But the investigation is progressing, as evidenced by the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence agents on Friday – timing that was embarrassing ahead of the summit.

Trump found precious little support from either side of the political aisle for his decision not to confront the Russian leader.

Republican lawmakers have called for information on exactly what was discussed or negotiated in Helsinki.

"We don't know what was said by our own president in a two-hour meeting," House Republican Ryan Costello told CNN, adding he was concerned about Trump's "damaging" remarks.

"These comments that come out of the president's mouth are not helpful to NATO, they're not helpful to international stability."

Some Democrats including Senator Richard Blumenthal have urged Senate leaders to subpoena Trump's translator and the notes from the summit, so that Congress can learn what was discussed.

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Read more on:    donald trump  |  vladimir putin  |  us  |  russia

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