UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia's U.N. ambassador said Monday that he never complained to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about criticism of Donald Trump because he wasn't aware that the Republican presidential candidate had been the target of criticism by the U.N. human rights chief.
The Associated Press reported Friday that three diplomats familiar with the conversation said Russia's Vitaly Churkin angrily protested two speeches by High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein denouncing "demagogues" and specifically targeting Trump and several populist European leaders.
Churkin told reporters Monday that he had received one paragraph of instructions from Moscow to tell Ban that Zeid "went too far" in public remarks about some government officials in Europe.
"He should stick to human rights," Churkin said. "He should not be criticizing foreign heads of state and government for their policies. This is not his business. He should be more focused on his specific responsibilities."
Churkin said he delivered the formal complaint during a meeting with Ban but never read Zeid's statements and had no idea Trump was even mentioned. He said Russia delivered a similar complaint to the high commissioner in Geneva, so "it's not that we're talking behind his back."
"Whether Trump was mentioned in his (Zeid's) statement or not, I have no idea," Churkin said, "because I was referring to other politicians. ... I wasn't aware that he (Trump) was even mentioned."
The three diplomats, including two U.N. officials who were familiar with the Sept. 13 meeting between Churkin and Ban, said the Russian ambassador complained "virulently" to Ban about speeches by Zeid in Cleveland on April 15 and in Europe in September.
A senior U.N. diplomat familiar with the story, whom the AP spoke to for Friday's story, said Churkin specifically "condemned the fact that Zeid mentioned Trump."
The diplomats weren't authorized to speak publicly about the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing possible diplomatic repercussions from Russia, a powerful, permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
Churkin said Monday that if Trump was mentioned in high commissioner Zeid's statements "then the United States should have complained, because it would have meant that he's interfering in their domestic presidential campaign."
"I'm not working for the United States, I'm working for the Russian Federation," Churkin said. "So why should I complain if somebody's trying to interfere in the presidential campaign?"
The Kremlin has said it has no position on the U.S. election. But last Friday the Obama administration hardened accusations that Russia is interfering, blaming Moscow for cyber-intrusions including hacking the Democratic National Committee's emails.
Trump has praised President Vladimir Putin's strength and leadership, vowing to improve ties between Washington and Moscow if he defeats Democrat Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8.