ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) – On the eve of his meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump rattled allies once more by labeling the European Union a “foe” with regard to trade.
In a pre-summit interview with CBS News’ “Face the Nation” program aired on Sunday, Trump lumped in the EU with China and Russia as U.S. economic adversaries. “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade,” he said.
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, replied on Twitter using one of Trump’s favorite stock phrases.
“America and the EU are best friends,” Tusk wrote. “Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.”
Trump and Putin will meet on Monday in Helsinki for their first stand-alone meeting since Trump took office in January 2017. Trump departed for Helsinki on Sunday evening after spending the day playing golf at his private club in Scotland.
Trump and his aides have been working through the weekend to soften expectations for tangible results from the meeting.
“I go in with low expectations,” Trump told CBS in the same interview. “I’m not going with high expectations.”
John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” that the United States would not be looking for “deliverables” and that the meeting would be “unstructured,” beginning with a one-on-one session between the two leaders.
“It isn’t a summit,” U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman told NBC’S “Meet the Press.”
“It’s a meeting … This is an attempt to see if we can defuse and take some of the drama, and quite frankly some of the danger, out of the relationship right now.”
The meeting comes just days after 12 Russian intelligence officers were charged by a U.S. federal grand jury for hacking the Democrats ahead of the 2016 election.
With that in mind, a senior House of Representatives Republican told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Trump should ask Putin in Helsinki which airport the Russian hackers will be extradited to for being taken into U.S. custody.
“Tell us where you’re going to extradite those folks,” said Representative Trey Gowdy, who chaired a raucous House investigative hearing on Thursday that highlighted bitter, partisan divisions within the U.S. Congress over a probe of Russian election meddling that has clouded Trump’s presidency.
The Helsinki summit, which comes at one of the most crucial junctures for the West since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, has alarmed some NATO allies who fear Putin might seek a grand deal that undermines the U.S.-led transatlantic alliance.
During last week’s NATO summit in Brussels, Trump repeatedly criticized members for failing to spend more on defense and openly questioned the alliance’s purpose.
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, said he was worried about Trump being alone in the room with Putin, without his national-security aides.
“We know that Trump doesn’t do a lot of prep work for these meetings. He kind of goes in and wings it,” Warner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press. “I really would feel much better if there were other Americans in the room.”
Friday’s charges against the 12 Russian officers alleging they hacked Democratic computer networks in 2016 represented the most detailed U.S. accusation yet that Moscow meddled in the election to help Trump.
The president has repeatedly said the investigation into Russian election meddling is a “rigged witch hunt” that makes it hard for him to do substantive deals with Moscow. He has denied any collusion by his campaign with the Russians.
The grand jury charges shine a brighter spotlight on Trump’s treatment of Putin, who has repeatedly denied Russia sought to skew the election which Trump, a Republican, unexpectedly won.
When asked by CBS if he would ask Putin to extradite the Russians to the United States, Trump said he had not thought of that idea but that he might. Russia’s constitution forbids the extradition of its own citizens.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Trump said. “But certainly, I’ll be asking about it.”
18 YEARS VS 18 MONTHS
When Trump meets Putin, he will sit down with a disciplined, detail-oriented and experienced Russian leader who has been on the world stage for more than 18 years, in contrast to 18 months in office for Trump.
Trump has said he wants to raise nuclear arms control, Ukraine and Syria with Putin, who has served as Russia’s preeminent leader since Boris Yeltsin resigned on the last day of 1999.
Huntsman on Sunday said that it was “highly unlikely” the United States would recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, but would not rule it out.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned Trump against making any unilateral deals with Russia that come with a cost for the United States’ Western allies.
Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Alistair Smout in Turnberry, Scotland, Steve Holland in Helsinki, Polina Ivanova in Moscow, and Lesley Wroughton and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington.; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge, William James, and James Oliphant; Editing by Keith Drawbaugh and Lisa Shumaker