Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin held a private meeting for a little over two hours. Trump said he had "no reason to believe" that Russia had interfered with the 2016 presidential election.
Responding to reporters' questions on the Russia investigation, US President Donald Trump said there was "no collusion." He added that he had spent a great deal of time talking to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the accusations of election meddling.
Trump, speaking with Putin at a press conference at the conclusion of their summit on Monday in Helsinki, said he had "no reason to believe" that Putin's government had interfered with the US presidential campaign in 2016.
"I think the probe is a disaster," Trump said of the special counsel investigation, adding that his team "ran a brilliant campaign" and that was the reason he was elected president.
Trump said he had "great confidence in the US intelligence community, but noted that Putin "was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today." He then praised the Russian president for offering to cooperate with the investigation.
When asked by a reporter whether he believed the various US institutions that asserted Russian interference or Putin, Trump did not provide a direct answer. The US president instead questioned the FBI's investigation and asked about the whereabouts of one of the agency's servers. Trump also said the FBI needed to find Hillary Clinton's emails.
On the issue, Putin categorically denied any Russian involvement. When asked if his government had any compromising material on Trump, the Russian president said it was "hard to imagine greater nonsense."
'Level of trust'
Both leaders lauded the meeting in Helsinki as an opportunity for improving bilateral relations, arguing that improved dialogue was necessary.
"Diplomacy and engagement are better than hostility," Trump said. The positive feeling was echoed by Putin, who said the meeting marked the first steps to restore "an acceptable level of trust" between the nations.
"Negotiations with Trump took place in an open and constructive atmosphere, I find them rather successful and useful," Putin added.
The presidents agreed to cooperate more closely to fight terrorism, as well as on cybersecurity and nuclear nonproliferation.
Crimea and Syria
Putin spoke frankly on the topic of Crimea, saying the US delegation had expressed its view that the invasion was illegal. The Russian president disagreed with Trump on the issue and concluded that "the Crimea question is closed for Russia."
On US-Russia cooperation in Syria, Trump stressed that both countries had the potential to "save hundreds of thousands of lives" by working together. Putin echoed the comment, saying the US could help Russia by assuming leadership on the humanitarian task of helping displaced Syrians return to their homes.
Additionally, Putin stressed that both militaries must work together to crush extremists in southwestern Syria, in part to help ensure Israel's security, something that Putin pointed out was important to Trump.
Prior to the closed-door meeting, the US and Russian presidents shook hands and Trump did most of the talking, as cameras flashed. "The world wants to see us get along," the US president said. "We have not been getting along well for the last number of years," Trump added.
Just minutes before the press conference, a man holding a sign had a scuffle with security personnel and was escorted out of the room. According to The Associated Press, the individual identified himself as a reporter from the US magazine The Nation and his protest sign was about nuclear weapons.
The meeting in Helsinki took place in the midst of frayed relations between the US and its European allies, following a contentious NATO summit, and after 12 Russian military intelligence officers were indicted in the US for hacking Democrats in the 2016 election.
Just hours before his meeting with Putin, Trump blamed "many years of US foolishness and stupidity," in reference to previous administrations, and the ongoing Russia probe for the bad state of bilateral relations.
The closely watched summit is not the first time the Russian and US presidents have held talks. They met on the sidelines of world leader meetings in Germany and Vietnam last year.
jcg/rc (AP, Reuters)