Putin: Claims of Russian meddling in US vote ‘fantasies’

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Danang, Vietnam, on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 11 November 2017
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Putin: Claims of Russian meddling in US vote ‘fantasies’

DANANG: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said accusations that Moscow meddled in US elections, particularly through contacts with Donald Trump’s campaign team, are “fantasies” and attempts to undermine the US presidency.
The Trump administration has been roiled by claims that Moscow helped the billionaire into the White House, with key former aides under a US investigation for alleged collaboration with the Kremlin.
“Everything about the so-called Russian dossier in the US is a manifestation of continuing domestic political struggle,” Putin told journalists at the Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam.
“Of course I’m aware,” he said when asked if he follows the mounting probe concerning contacts between Trump’s team members and Russians, including a woman who claimed to be Putin’s niece.
“Regarding some sort of connections of my relatives with members of the administration or some officials, I only found out about that yesterday from (spokesman Dmitry) Peskov,” he said.
“I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “I think these are some sort of fantasies.”
He added that US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s Russia connections could be explained by his business interests. “I think he did business before... he signed contracts, perhaps with Russian companies too,” Putin said. “That has nothing to do with politics.”
The contacts of Trump’s one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort were also harmless, according to Putin, who said he was only a “head of a PR agency.”
“This is empty chatter and wish to use any pretext to undermine the current president,” Putin resumed.
Meanwhile, Trump said Saturday that Putin again denied interfering in the US elections. But Trump declined to say whether he believed the Russian leader.
“He says he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on the trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. “Every time he sees me, he said: ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that he means it.”
Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting while they were in Vietnam for an economic summit, but the two spoke informally several times and reached agreement on a number of principles for the future of war-torn Syria. But Trump made clear that the issue of Russian meddling in the election hovers over the leaders’ relationship — Putin is “insulted” by the accusation, Trump said. In a blistering partisan attack, Trump accused Democrats of using the election issue to create a barrier between the US and Russia as the nations work on crises in Syria and Ukraine.
“Having a good relationship with Russia’s a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way,” Trump told reporters, once again casting doubt on the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia did try to interfere in the election. “People will die because of it.”
Trump’s suggestion that he may believe Putin over his own nation’s intelligence community is certain to re-ignite the firestorm over the election meddling. Meanwhile, a special counsel investigation of potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides so far has resulted in two indictments for financial and other crimes unrelated to the campaign, as well as a guilty plea.


US wants Afghan-led peace talks with Taliban, Ghani says

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail)
Updated 17 July 2018
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US wants Afghan-led peace talks with Taliban, Ghani says

  • The US media on Monday, citing anonymous US officials, reported that Washington was keen to hold direct talks with the Taliban.
  • Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visited Afghanistan last week to reinforce US support for the talks.

KABUL: A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday said that the US wants peace talks with the Taliban to be led by the Afghan government, dismissing reports that Washington was open to holding direct talks with the militants to end the 17-year war.

“The United States of America is jointly working with the government of Afghanistan on a strategy for peace process,” Duranai Waziri, spokeswoman for President Ashraf Ghani, told Arab News.

“Any talks that will be held about the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Afghan government and the Taliban under the leadership of the Afghan government,” she said. 

Waziri said Washington would, however, facilitate the talks.

The US media on Monday, citing anonymous US officials, reported that Washington was keen to hold direct talks with the Taliban, a longstanding demand of the militants for ending the conflict.

The top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, in a statement late Monday night, also rejected media reports that quoted him talking about engaging the Taliban in direct talks. 

“Resolute Support refutes reports by the media that the Resolute Support commander said the US is ready to join direct negotiations with the Taliban during a visit with Afghan provincial and government representatives in Kandahar, July 16,” the statement said.  “The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government,” the statement said. 

Gen. Nickolson said that he was only affirming Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s statement in which he said peace talks would include a discussion of international forces and that the US was ready to work with the Taliban, the Afghan government and the Afghan people toward lasting peace.

Sayed Ihsan Taheri, a spokesman for the Afghan High Peace Council, said that the US role would be to speed up the peace process and that any talks would be held under the Afghan government’s umbrella and  owned by Afghans.

“This engagement is only for speeding up the Afghan led and owned direct talks to start between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” he told Arab News.

The Taliban did not officially respond to confirm or deny the reports. 

The group has long refused direct talks with the Afghan government, demanding instead to negotiate with Washington, and has shown a preparedness to speak with Kabul only when all foreign troops have left the country.

The Taliban have been standing firm on their stance despite Ghani’s unilateral extension of a holiday cease-fire last month in the hope of encouraging the militants to come to the bargaining table.

After the Taliban stepped up deadly attacks, Ghani ordered government forces to resume military operations this month.

Asked if the US is willing to hold direct talks with the Taliban, the State Department said on Monday that the US was “exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government,” the Associated Press reported.

The department added that “any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and the Afghan government.”

Last August, President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan which saw a surge in the number of offensives against the militants.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visited Afghanistan last week to reinforce US support for the talks. He said that the US was ready to “support, facilitate and participate” in discussions with the Taliban over the role of international forces in Afghanistan but that the peace process would be Afghan-led.

The US in an invasion toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and ousted the Taliban regime that had hosted Al-Qaeda. 

The US currently has about 15,000 troops in Afghanistan, mostly for training government forces.