U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has once again praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and declared that he had been a better leader that U.S. President Barack Obama.
Putin is "very much of a leader," Trump said in a televised presidential forum moderated by the U.S. network NBC on September 7, where he and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton were separately grilled over their national security credentials.
Putin "has very strong control over a country," Trump said. "It's a very different system, and I don't happen to like the system. But certainly in that system he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader."
Asked how he would deescalate tensions between the United States and Russia if he's elected to the White House, Trump said, "I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin, and I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Russia."
Trump said Moscow wants to destroy Islamic State as much as Washington does, and repeated his intent to work with Russia to defeat the militant group in Iraq and Syria.
"If we had a relationship with Russia, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could work on it together and knock the hell out of ISIS? Wouldn't it be wonderful?" he asked.
Trump has been criticized frequently for seeming to heap praise on Putin and other strongmen. But he was unapologetic and said he was happy to take a compliment from Putin, who during a news conference in December called Trump "talented" and "yarkiy" -- a Russian word that is used to describe a person who is colorful and stands out but, at the time, was translated by some news organizations as "brilliant."
Trump said if Putin "says great things about me, I'm going to say great things about him." Trump added, however, that Putin's compliments would not influence his decision-making as president.
Trump, who earlier in the day proposed a massive increase in U.S. military spending, said the military's leadership "has been reduced to rubble" under the Obama administration.
Clinton, appearing before an audience of military officials and veterans who were provided an opportunity to ask questions, was grilled about her use of a personal e-mail server while she was secretary of state and her handling of classified information. She defended her behavior, saying she did "exactly what I should have done," but stressing that she had not improperly handled classified information.
But she also said, "It was a mistake to have a personal account. I would certainly not do it again. I make no excuses for it."
Clinton vowed, if elected, not to send American ground troops back into Iraq or Syria.
"We are going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops," she said.
With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa