Putin eyes new era of cooperation under Trump

Hamburg (AFP) –


President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that he expects Russian-US cooperation will improve under Donald Trump and that the American president is "very different" in real life compared to on TV.

The comments came a day after the pair held their first face-to-face meeting, an encounter eagerly awaited in the wake of allegations that Russia had a hand in Trump's surprise election victory last year.

"The Trump that you see on TV is very different than the real Trump," Putin told reporters in Hamburg, Germany where the talks took place on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

"He perfectly understands whom he is talking to and answers questions quickly. I think personal relations were established."

Putin said he was positive about repairing US-Russian relations, which plunged to depths not seen since the Cold War under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.

"There is every reason to believe that we will be able to at least partially re-establish the level of cooperation that we need," Putin told a news conference.

"I very much hope (for an improvement in relations) and it seems to me that some basis for this has already been created," Putin said.

The Russian strongman said that in particular, the Trump administration appeared to be less rigid on the war on Syria, where Moscow and Washington back opposing sides.

"It seems to me that the US position (on Syria) has become more pragmatic. There is a comprehension that if we combine our efforts, we can achieve a lot," Putin said.

Russia and the US have agreed to a memorandum of understanding on creating a de-escalation zone in southwest Syria from midday Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday.

Lavrov said the ceasefire would be supervised by Russian military police "in coordination with the Jordanians and Americans".

- Meddling -

Regarding allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election that brought Trump to power, Putin said the US president had at their meeting accepted his denials.

"Trump asked a lot of questions (on the issue) and I answered him. It seems to me that he acknowledged and accepted" the answers, Putin said.

Trump has not spoken about the meeting other than to say earlier Saturday that it was "tremendous".

According to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was present in the two-and-a-quarter-hour meeting, Putin and Trump had a "very robust and lengthy exchange" about the meddling claims.

Asked as he was leaving a news conference in Hamburg on Friday if Trump had accepted Putin's denials, Tillerson did not answer.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, meanwhile told CNN that Putin was not to be believed.

"Everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections," she said.

Trump "wanted to basically look him in the eye, let him know that, yes, we know you meddled in our elections, yes, we know you did it and cut it out," Haley said.

"And I think President Putin did exactly what we thought he would do, which is deny it. This is Russia trying to save face. And they can't. They can't."

- 'Positive chemistry' -

Tillerson said that the two leaders had "connected very quickly" and there was a "very clear positive chemistry between the two".

The topic that took up the most time was Syria, he said.

"There are so many issues on the table... Just about everything got touched upon... Neither one of them wanted to stop," he said.

"I believe they even sent in the (US) First Lady at one point to see if she could get us out of there, but that didn't work either... We did another hour. Clearly she failed."

Trump's wife Melania sat next to Putin at Friday's G20 gala dinner, and photos gave the impression that the two appeared to be hitting it off.