Just hours ahead of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump has both lowered expectations for the talks and issued a stunning rebuke of what has traditionally been one of Washington’s closest allies.
“Well I think we have a lot of foes,” Trump told CBS News when asked who he thinks is the U.S.’ biggest enemy. “I think the European Union is a foe. Now you wouldn't think of the European Union, but they're a foe.” Trump also said Russia is a foe “in certain respects.”
European Council President Donald Tusk quickly responded on Twitter: “America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.”
Trump’s comments were broadcast as he headed for Helsinki, Finland, where on Monday he will hold his first official summit with Putin. Trump says he will use the meeting to find areas of cooperation with Putin, who is also critical of Western institutions such as NATO and the EU.
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“Nothing bad’s gonna come out of it, and maybe some good will come out,” Trump said. “But I go in with low expectations. I’m not going with high expectations. I don’t really, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen.”
In Helsinki Monday morning before heading to breakfast with the Finnish president, Trump tweeted "Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!," referring to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
He also issued a series of tweets as he headed for Helsinki, saying no matter how well he does at the summit he would "return to criticism that it wasn't good enough."
Trump and Putin, according to diplomatic sources, are set to meet one-on-one, with only interpreters present, for 30 minutes to an hour, before wider talks involving aides.
On Sunday, Trump declined to say what his goals are for the summit. “I’ll let you know after the meeting,” Trump told CBS.
When asked whether he would request Putin extradite the Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic leaders during the 2016 election, Trump replied: “Well I might. I hadn’t thought of that.”
The summit comes three days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers, accusing them of meddling in election to help Trump win the White House.
Russia has no extradition treaty with the U.S. so it is unlikely that the Russia would turn the intelligence officials over to the U.S. to stand trial. Putin has denied trying to influence the vote.
Trump’s meeting with Putin will be closely watched — not only for possible deals that may emerge, but also for the personal interactions between the leaders of two countries long seen as competitors.
During his Europe tour, Trump has been combative with traditional U.S. allies at every stage — beginning at a NATO summit in Brussels, where he chastised European leaders for not spending more on defense.
Ahead of his meeting in Britain, Trump criticized Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to negotiations about Britain leaving the EU and suggested it could impact a proposed trade deal between London and Washington.
The Trump-Putin meeting is being held in Finland, which is part of the EU but is not a full member of the NATO defense pact.
“Finland is one of those countries that both the United States and Russia appreciates," explained Finnish Defense Forces Lt. Col. Jyri Raitasalo, a professor of war studies at the Finnish National Defense University. “It’s not involved in many of these most intense struggles between Russia and the West.”
On Monday, Trump will hold a bilateral meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who has adopted a pragmatic approach toward Russia and the West.
Trump arrived in Finland about 9 p.m. local time (1800 UTC) after golfing at his course in Scotland. As in Britain, Trump is being greeted in the Finnish capital with large crowds of protesters.
Several thousand protesters gathered Sunday in Helsinki’s iconic Senate Square for a protest that gathered together activists focused on issues including the environment, refugee rights, and anti-war causes.
Some of protest signs read: “Dictators not welcome,” “Trump is Satan to the environment,” and “Stop Killing Journalists.”
Ken Bredemeier, Steve Herman contributed to this report.