NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — One day after President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin made little headway in their standoff over Syria at their first formal meeting in more than two years, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump is agreeing with Putin on his backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Speaking on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” Tuesday evening, the billionaire businessman and presidential front-runner praised Russia’s recent military buildup in Syria and expressed little concern for Putin’s support for his longtime Syrian ally.
“If he wants to fight ISIS, let him fight ISIS,” Trump said in an interview taped at his Trump Tower skyscraper in Manhattan.
“I say there’s very little downside with Putin fighting ISIS,” he added.
The U.S. has long insisted that Syria’s future cannot include Assad. But Putin has cast Assad’s government as the best defense against Islamic State militants, a group the U.S. is also working to defeat.
Trump also suggested that Assad, who has used barrel bombs and chemical weapons against civilians, was preferable to other potential options.
“Personally, I’ve been looking at the different players and I’ve been watching Assad, Trump said, ” … and I’m looking at Assad and saying maybe he’s better than the kind of people that we’re supposed to be backing because we don’t even know who we’re backing. We have no idea.”
Obama and Putin have a tense relationship that was on full display as the pair met at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Trump has long predicted that he would get along well with Putin and declared Monday that, “Putin is a nicer person than I am.” He repeated his criticism that Putin is the better leader when compared with Obama.
“I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an ‘A’ and our president is not doing so well,” he said. “They did not look good together.”
It was Trump’s first appearance on Fox since he announced last week that he’d be boycotting the network for “the foreseeable future” because of what he deemed unfair treatment.
The boycott lasted less than a week.
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