Trump, Putin hold historic summit at Finland’s presidential palace
President Trump met behind closed doors for more than two hours Monday with Vladimir Putin, as the two leaders tackled weighty issues amid political pressure back home for Trump to get tough with the Russian president.
Rebuffing calls for him to cancel the summit in the wake of new indictments against Russian intelligence officers, Trump predicted their two countries “will end up having an extraordinary relationship.”
While both leaders maintained a reserved presence and tone for the cameras — with Putin’s expression characteristically inscrutable — Trump began their highly anticipated summit in Helsinki by congratulating the Russian president on hosting a “really great World Cup.”
He said their agenda would include trade, missile defense and China. A host of other thorny issues ranging from Crimea to Syria to election meddling tied to those indictments were also expected to come up.
Their one-on-one meeting ran long, and after more than two hours they moved into an expanded meeting involving key advisers. In between the two sessions, the U.S. president said they were off to a “very good start.” They are expected to hold a press conference later Monday.
“I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship,” Trump said, sitting next to Putin at the presidential palace in Helsinki. “Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Trump and Putin met after sparring for the better part of the past week with traditional U.S. allies — first with NATO nations over their levels of defense spending, and later with British Prime Minister Theresa May over her ‘Brexit’ strategy, though he seemed to patch things up before leaving London. The tensions created a contrast with his efforts to improve ties with Moscow, leading to bipartisan concerns about Monday’s summit.
Trump arrived in Finland’s capital a day early, while the jet carrying Putin, who wrapped up his nation’s hosting of the World Cup Sunday, touched down Monday afternoon local time and the Russian president’s motorcade whisked him straight to the neo-classical palace a dozen miles from the airport.
Election meddling by Moscow, the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s involvement in Syria were all expected to come up in the first one-on-one talks between the nations’ leaders since 2010.
Facing pressure to get tough on Putin, Trump on Monday blamed past U.S. policies for soured relations. “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” he tweeted.
On Sunday, Trump sought to lower expectations for any major breakthrough.
Putin has signaled he would like Trump to soften sanctions that Washington imposed over the annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, involvement in the Syrian civil war and allegations of Russian meddling.
Trump signed an August 2017 law imposing additional sanctions on Russia. The law bars Trump from easing many sanctions without Congress’ approval, but he can offer some relief without a nod from Congress.
Almost 700 Russian people and companies are under U.S. sanctions. Individuals face limits on their travel and freezes on at least some of their assets, while some top Russian state banks and companies, including oil and gas giants, are effectively barred from getting financing through U.S. banks and markets.
The two leaders also are expected to discuss a tentative deal to move Iranian troops farther from Israel’s border with Syria and Jordan, in exchange for allowing access there to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.