SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Trump says he's had several short conversations this weekend with Vladimir Putin. Both leaders were in Vietnam for a gathering with other Asia-Pacific leaders. Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting. They did apparently find time to talk about Syria and later released a joint statement on the subject. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us from Vietnam. Scott, thanks for being with us.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: You're welcome, Scott. Good to be here.
SIMON: Were both countries a little coy about a new meeting?
HORSLEY: The United States certainly was. There was never a meeting with Vladimir Putin listed on President Trump's official schedule, even though Trump told reporters on his way to Asia he thought that such a meeting was expected. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was also asked about any preparations for such a meeting. He said the U.S. only wanted to have one if there was something substantive for the two leaders to talk about. The Russians, though, were insisting that there would be a meeting one way or another. All this just shows how sensitive the White House is about the optics of putting Trump and Putin together, given the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in last year's presidential contest.
SIMON: And President Trump said he asked Vladimir Putin about that. Vladimir Putin once again denied it. The president said once again, I accept his answer. Does this put the president at odds with his own CIA and intelligence analysts and security officials?
HORSLEY: It certainly does. The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia did interfere in the election and, moreover, that Russia did so in order to help Donald Trump. Now, whether Trump or his associates played any role in that meddling is a subject for independent counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. But Trump insists there was no collusion. And he says the suspicion of such collusion has created what he calls an artificial barrier that gets in the way of his doing business with Vladimir Putin. For example, Trump says he would like to have more help from Moscow in dealing with North Korea. But the cloud of the Russia investigation creates a barrier to doing that.
SIMON: And any indications about the conversations about North Korea that they might have had?
HORSLEY: Trump says they did not have time to talk about North Korea during their talks this weekend. Most of their conversation was focused on Syria. That's a country where, obviously, there's a division between the U.S. and Russia. Moscow is a strong supporter of Bashar al-Assad. The United States is not. But both countries have a common enemy in the Islamic State. And Trump and Putin issued a joint statement today where they reiterated their determination to defeat ISIS in Syria. They also recommitted to a political solution to ending the long-running Syrian civil war.
SIMON: And, Scott, did the president weigh in on the Alabama Senate race and allegations against Roy Moore?
HORSLEY: Not really. He was pressed on that today by reporters traveling on Air Force One as they traveled from Da Nang, Vietnam, up to Hanoi. Trump says while he's been here in Asia, he hasn't really been following the story closely enough to have an opinion. Yesterday, his press secretary said Trump doesn't believe a mere allegation should destroy a person's life. But press secretary Sarah Sanders added, if the allegations against Moore are true, Trump believes he'll do the right thing and step aside.
SIMON: NPR's Scott Horsley, who's traveling with the president, joining us now from Vietnam. Scott, thanks so much for being with us.
HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.