By JONATHAN LEMIRE and CATHERINE LUCEY, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin firmed up plans Thursday to meet in Helsinki next month for a closely watching sit-down that will play out just days after what is likely to be a tense meeting between Trump and some of the United States’ closest allies.
Trump and Putin will meet July 16 against the backdrop of an ongoing special counsel probe into possible ties between the president’s campaign and Russian officials. The investigation into Russian election meddling has raised tensions between Moscow and Washington at a time when Trump has repeatedly said he wants to build a strong personal relationship with Putin.
“We’re looking forward to it. If we could all get along, it would be great. The world has to start getting along,” Trump said during a visit to Wisconsin on Thursday. The day before, he said they would discuss Syria, Ukraine and “many other subjects.”
The summit location and date were announced in synchronized statements from Moscow and Washington, with the White House saying the two presidents will “discuss relations between the United States and Russia and a range of national security issues.”
Trump’s relationship with Putin has long been the source of intrigue, both at home and in world capitals. He has repeatedly praised his authoritarian peer while straining ties with many of the United States’ closest allies.
The timing of Trump’s meeting with Putin will likely do little to ease concerns across Europe. It come at the end of Trump’s weeklong trip to Europe, which begins in Belgium at NATO, an intergovernmental military alliance between 29 North American and European countries that has countering possible Russian aggression at its heart. At a NATO summit last year, Trump scolded leaders for the cost of the gleaming new Brussels headquarters and for not paying enough to support NATO’s defense.
From Brussels, Trump will make his first visit to the United Kingdom since taking office. He will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May but not receive the lavish state welcome he has enjoyed at stops in other foreign capitals. Instead, he is expected to be greeted with significant protests.
Earlier this month, Trump called for Russia to be reinstated in the Group of Seven industrialized democracies, which expelled Moscow four years earlier as punishment for Putin’s annexation of Crimea and its support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. The idea of reinstating Russia was roundly rejected by most fellow G-7 nations.
Trump also rattled his G-7 allies with blistering rhetoric about their trading relationships with the United States and a series of scathing remarks about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trump has met with Putin twice before, on the sidelines of international summits in Germany and Vietnam last year. But the president was drawn to the pageantry of a formal summit, particularly after seeing round-the-clock news coverage generated by his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore earlier this month.
Trump will be under renewed pressure in Finland to upbraid Putin for 2016 election interference, all while special counsel Robert Mueller investigates whether the president’s campaign colluded with Russia in a bid to sway the 2016 presidential election in his favor. In the hours before the Helsinki summit was announced, Trump again cast doubt on the probe, tweeting: “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!”
His repetition of the Kremlin’s denials of election interference has put him out of step with the findings of the U.S. intelligence community, a bipartisan consensus in Congress and Trump’s own appointees, who say there is clear evidence of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential campaign and reason to believe it could happen again.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., jumped on Trump’s tweet, saying: “Why do you trust Putin more than your own Republican DOJ officials and the Republican special counsel that was appointed by a Republican?”
For Putin, the summit will cap off two days in which he will occupy the center of the global stage; the day before he meets Trump, he will preside over the World Cup final in Moscow.
Finland, which tries to maintain friendly ties with its huge eastern neighbor, has been a favored location for U.S.-Russian and Soviet summits since Cold War times.
It was the site of a 1975 meeting between President Gerald Ford and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and hosted a summit between President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990. In 1997, President Bill Clinton met his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin in Helsinki.