U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump gave Russian President Vladimir Putin an 'A' for leadership in an interview on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" September 29.
The billionaire businessman and leading Republican contender to replace U.S. President Barack Obama praised Russia's military buildup in Syria, which has caused consternation in the Obama White House, and said Russia should be welcomed to join the fight against the Islamic State group.
Referring to widely published photos of Obama and Putin glaring at each other at the United Nations General Assembly this week, Trump said Putin comes across as the better leader.
"I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he's getting an 'A' and our president is not doing so well," Trump said. "They did not look good together."
Trump has said he thinks he would get along well with the Russian leader, declaring that "Putin is a nicer person than I am."
He said Russia should be free to pursue its quest of defeating IS in Syria.
"I say there's very little downside with Putin fighting ISIS," he said. "If he wants to fight ISIS, let him fight ISIS."
The Obama White House has only this week indicated a willingness to accept Russia's buildup of forces and weapons in Syria to fight IS, and it is adamantly opposed to Putin's goal of bolstering the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad so it can lead the ground war against IS.
The Obama White House has backed so-called moderate Syrian rebels and Kurds in the fight against both Assad and IS, and insists that Assad, who has used barrel bombs and chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, is the main cause of the country's problems.
But Trump said that Assad may be preferable to other 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."
In an earlier interview on NBC's "Today" show, Trump said: "The people that want to come in and replace Assad, nobody knows who they are and they could end up being worse," he said.
"We're constantly going out and siding with people and they turn out to be worse than the people who were there before."
Trump is leading public opinion polls among those seeking the Republican Party's bid to win the White House in the 2016 presidential election. All of the Republican candidates have criticized Obama's policies in Syria, but this is the first time Trump has provided much detail on the subject or on his views of Putin.
With reporting by AP and Reuters