Trump defends congratulating Putin, fumes at White House leaks

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump stridently defended his much-criticised overtures to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, as White House anxiety over his embrace spilled into full public view.

After aides leaked embarrassing details of Mr Trump's shock decision to call Mr Putin and congratulate him on re-election, the US president blamed the media for the furor and insisted Moscow can be a solid partner.

"I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory," Mr Trump tweeted.

"The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him."

"They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing," he said, claiming Moscow "can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race."

The tweets left Mr Trump's administration in disarray, holding two starkly contrasting positions on Russia - one espoused by a Russophile president and another from a Cabinet and White House more sceptical of Mr Putin's role.

Just minutes before Mr Trump's tweets, the White House staff had suggested that he agreed with President Emmanuel Macron of France on the need to "hold Russia accountable."

There was no such sentiment from Mr Trump himself, with the president instead suggesting his warm relationship with Mr Putin could reset relations.

"Bush tried to get along, but didn't have the 'smarts.' Obama and Clinton tried, but didn't have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET). PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!" he tweeted. - AFP