President Trump declared that he aims to end to the international strife resulting from the shortcomings of his predecessors by shifting towards "healing a world that is shattered and broken," even as the commander in chief faces a fresh bevy of questions regarding his relationship to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been tied to interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
While Trump has repeatedly pushed for a forward-looking foreign policy during his 13-day tour through Asia, appearing alongside Vietnamese President President Tran Dai Quang during a joint press conference Sunday at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, the first question he faced centered around his comments to reporters a day prior that indicated he believed Putin's sincerity when the Russian leader asserted that his country was not involved in a plot to damage the electoral process that brought Trump into the White House.
"I am surprised is any conflict on this," Trump replied. "What I said there is I believe that he believes that and that's important for someone to believe. I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election."
He was referring to what he told reporters after departing a conference in Vietnam on Saturday. "Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it," Trump said, according to a press pool report. "But he says I didn’t do that. I think he is very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth. Don’t forget. All he said was he never did that, he didn’t do that. I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country."
The president went on to compare former FBI Director James Comey and his intelligence agency colleagues, whom Trump labeled "political hacks," against "Putin very strongly, vehemently [saying] he had nothing to do with that. Now, you are not going to get into an argument."
The comments appeared to stand in contrast to the conclusion of multiple U.S. intelligence agencies in January that Russia was behind the hacking of emails of the Democratic National Committee and officials involved in Hillary Clinton's campaign. There are now a number of investigations, one federal probe headed by special counsel Robert Mueller and a handful of others in Congress, looking into Russian interference and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
What he said to reporters Saturday about Putin, along with showing willingness to cooperate with Russia to end the six-year-plus bloody conflict in Syria, elicited immediate blow-back from press and politicos, notably from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
"There's nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community," McCain said, taking a swipe at Trump's foreign policy plan.
The issue of trust in his intelligence agencies was also broached by Trump.
"I am with our agencies especially as currently constituted with their leadership. I believe in our Intel agencies and our intelligence agencies and I worked with them very strongly," Trump said Sunday. Though Trump signaled his solidarity with the U.S. intelligence community as it stands now — within which the CIA issued a statement Saturday standing by its prior conclusions -- the assessment that determined Russia was behind the hacking of emails of the Democratic National Committee and officials involved in Hillary Clinton's campaign was made on Jan. 6, two weeks before Trump's inauguration.
Trump's wide-ranging response to that same question Sunday also described a more hopeful future with the assistance of Russia, including on issues like a belligerent North Korea and the conflict in Syria. He added that his processor, former President Barack Obama, and his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, attempted to bring Russia in as a partner, but only managed to make U.S.-Russia relations worse.
"What I believe is that we have to get to work and I think everyone understood this that heard the answer we have to get to work to solve Syria to some North Korea, to solve Ukraine, to solve terrorism and, you know, people don't realize Russia has been very, very heavily sanctioned," Trump said. "They were sanctioned at a very high level and that took place very recently. It's now time to get back to healing a world that is shattered and broken."
"Those are very important things and I feel that having Russia in a friendly posture as opposed to always fighting with them is an asset to the world and an asset to our country, not a liability. And by the way, Hillary Clinton had the reset button," he continued. "She wanted to get back together with Russia. She even spelled reset wrong. That's how it started and then it got worse. President Obama wanted to get along with Russia but the chemistry was not there. Getting along with other nations is a good thing, not a bad thing. Believe me. It's a good thing, not a bad thing."
While Trump appears to be seeking a warmer relationship with Russia, elsewhere the U.S. was left of key negotiations. Top officials from 11 Pacific Rim countries said they had reached an arrangement for a trade agreement Friday — one that does not involve the U.S., after Trump announced a withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January.
Meanwhile former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and top Democrats traveled to Germany and pledged that the U.S. would fulfill the promise of the Paris climate agreement that Trump announced the U.S. would be departing.
Further casting international issues into uncertainty was Trump's mixed messages on North Korea.
During his opening remarks Sunday, Trump said he prefers "progress, not provocation" in dealing with North Korea, which continues to develop its nuclear weapons and missile programs despite international sanctions aimed at getting Pyongyang to stop.
However, that comment stood in stark contrast to a snarky tweet Trump made just hours earlier, directed at North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un.
"Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me 'old,' when I would NEVER call him 'short and fat?' Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!", Trump tweeted.
It remains to be seen how North Korea will reply, but there has been escalating rhetoric in recent months between the pariah nation and the U.S. Trump has threatened "fire and fury" and actions that would "totally destroy" if provoked. Last month, North Korea threatened an "unimaginable" strike on the U.S.