U.S. President Donald Trump defended his efforts to build a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview broadcast on Friday, having invited the Russian leader for a second meeting despite an uproar over their first.
Trump's administration has sought to control the damage from their private meeting and news conference Monday in Helsinki, where Trump astonished the world and drew sharp criticism at home by siding with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies on Moscow's meddling in the 2016 election.
As the White House tried to put some distance between the two leaders, Trump made a jarring move in the opposite direction on Thursday, offering to host Putin in the autumn.
In a CNBC interview, Trump said that he and Putin had a rapport in Helsinki. U.S. intelligence agencies accuse Putin of directing interference to sway the election against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton toward Republican Trump.
"Look, the fact is we got along well," Trump said in the interview, which was taped on Thursday. He added that the two did not agree on everything.
"So I had a meeting that lasted for more than two hours. It wasn't always conciliatory in that meeting," Trump said, without elaborating.
Five days after the Helsinki meeting, some U.S. officials remained in the dark about what the leaders discussed in their two-hour, one-on-one session with only interpreters present.
Trump listed on Twitter the topics he and Putin talked about, but has not given details. He said they discussed counterterrorism, Israel's security, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace and North Korea.
Conflicting messages from the White House this week added to the confusion after Trump's overseas trip, during which he appeared to draw closer to Russia after alienating NATO allies.
As Americans groped for information about the meeting, Moscow offered snippets of its version on Friday.
Russia's Defense Ministry said it sent detailed proposals to Washington on organizing the return of more than 1.7 million refugees to Syria after agreements reached by Putin and Trump, RIA news agency said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at the United Nations later that Trump and Putin discussed how to return refugees who fled the civil war in Syria, but offered no details and did not mention any Russian proposals.
Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Putin also made proposals to Trump involving eastern Ukraine, citing Russia's ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov. He did not spell out what they were.
A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said later the United States on Friday rejected a proposal from Russia for a referendum to decide the fate of eastern Ukraine.
The Russian ambassador said Moscow is ready to discuss a proposed new meeting between Putin and Trump, Interfax said.
Putin has rejected accusations his government meddled in the election won by Trump. A week ago, a federal grand jury indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for carrying out cyber attacks to undermine Democratic Party networks. A special counsel is also investigating whether Trump campaign aides coordinated with Russian officials, which Trump denies.
U.S. intelligence officials have said Moscow is targeting congressional elections in November as well.
Illustrating the gulf between Trump and some of his own advisers, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said on Thursday that he did not know what Trump and Putin discussed in their private meeting.
Coats learned of the proposed second meeting with Putin when the White House announced it on Twitter, while he was being interviewed at the Aspen conference.
With the fallout from the Putin meeting matching or eclipsing previous controversies in Trump's turbulent 18-month presidency, critics of his performance in Helsinki included many fellow Republicans.
A Republican congressman and former CIA officer, William Hurd, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times late on Thursday entitled, "Trump is Being Manipulated by Putin. What should we do?"
"There are a number of us who warned about this," Mark Warner, the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, said Friday on MSNBC. "Trump got played, he got played for a fool and he embarrassed our country and frankly embarrassed lots of my colleagues across the board – Democrats, Republicans alike."© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2018.