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Peters suspects Russia meddling in US election, awaits proof

Winston Peters suspects Russia meddling in US election but awaits proof

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters is "bemused and bewildered" by US President Donald Trump's comments on Russian election meddling but says the truth has yet to be proven.

Winston Peters
Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Mr Peters told Morning Report he suspected Russian interference but was keeping an open mind until it was backed up by evidence and prosecutions.

US president Donald Trump defended Russia over its denial of interference in the 2016 presidential election, following talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr Trump contradicted US intelligence agencies and said he accepted Mr Putin's assurances there had been no meddling by Russia.

US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a Trump nominee approved by Congress, responded by saying the intelligence community had been clear in its assessments of Russian election meddling.

"The least you could conclude was that he [Trump] was not condemning him [Putin] or condemning the Russians for a multitude of accusations that have been made domestically in America," Mr Peters said.

"I've always been ultra-cautious about intelligence agencies. We all recall the second Iraq conflict based on the weapons of mass destruction and the information that the West was fed by both, sadly, the USA and the UK, only to be proven wrong.

"But that said, I really think that these are extraordinary days.

"In the end they are for the US Congress and the US people to sort out" - Winston Peters duration 11:33
from Morning Report

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Statements such as those from Dan Coats "should be followed up with a prosecution and, to be believed in its entirety, a successful prosecution that removes all doubt of guilt."

"That's the way a society like ours should operate, not just believing what we hear over the media.

"I believe there are huge allegations being made about [Russian meddling in the US election], I believe people are seriously concerned that those allegations are correct and now we are awaiting trials and proof and evidence to sheet home the responsibility and the level of guilt. That of course is yet to arrive."

"Do I suspect it? Yes I seriously do. Are my suspicions are backed up by probative evidence? Well, I await that, I keep an open mind, whilst being very wary as to where it might go."

Trump statement on EU foe 'horribly ambiguous'

Mr Peters said Mr Trump's statement after meeting Nato leaders earlier this week that the EU was a foe was "horribly ambiguous".

Mr Trump said there were "a lot of foes" and named Russia and China among them, but said the first on his list was the EU.

"Words matter," Mr Peters said. "And he explained that as being 'we have a foe or a contestant or a competitor in the European Union trading markets, we have a foe or a competitor in the Chinese trading markets'. Now as a statement, that happens to be a fact. But if you extrapolate that means that we have got a mortal enemy in the sense of the word foe, then he's utterly wrong.

"And what do I make of recent circumstances?

"Well, I'm bemused, we're all confused, we're all bewildered but at the end of the day this is a decision that the American people in terms of the continuance of this sort of representation have to make and only they can make."

Release of NZ teen

Meanwhile, Mr Peters said the release of a 17-year-old New Zealander from detention in Australia was a good news story.

"I hope he uses this chance to turn his life around," he said.

Earlier this month Mr Peters accused Australia of flouting United Nations agreements by detaining a child, and promised to raise the issue with Australia's foreign minister next month.

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