BFF-64 Trump hails ‘very good start’ with Putin at first summit

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US-RUSSIA-SUMMIT-DIPLOMACY

Trump hails ‘very good start’ with Putin at first summit

HELSINKI, July 16, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir
Putin held a historic summit on Monday vowing their determination to forge a
reset of troubled relations between the world’s greatest nuclear powers.

Trump, bent on forging a personal bond with the Kremlin chief despite
allegations of Russian meddling in US politics, went into the summit blaming
the “stupidity” of his predecessors for plunging ties to their present low.

“I think it’s a good start: very, very good start for everybody,” the US
leader told reporters after meeting Putin for more than two hours with just
their interpreters present, and just before they were joined by their
national security teams.

Many in Washington were agog at Trump’s decision to sit one-on-one with
Putin, a former KGB spymaster, worried about what he might bargain away after
previously cosying up to the autocratic leaders of China and North Korea.

Indeed, some domestic critics wanted the Helsinki summit called off
entirely after 12 Russian military agents were indicted under a long-running
probe into Moscow’s alleged manipulation of the 2016 US elections.

But Trump, convinced his unique brand of diplomacy can make inroads with
Putin, pressed ahead and looked forward to “having an extraordinary
relationship” as the pair sat down to discuss everything from Syria, Ukraine
and China to trade tariffs and the size of their nuclear arsenals.

Putin, basking in congratulations from Trump and other world leaders for
the successful staging of the World Cup in Russia, said: “The time has come
to talk in a substantive way about our relations and problem areas of the
world.”

Trump added: “Frankly, we have not been getting along for the last number
of years. And I really think the world wants to see us get along. We are the
two great nuclear powers.”

– ‘We’ll do fine’ –

Shortly before the summit opened, Trump was asked if he would press Putin
over Russia’s alleged manipulation of the election that brought the mercurial
property tycoon to power 18 months ago. He said only: “We’ll do just fine.”

But there are many points of friction that could yet spoil Trump’s hoped-
for friendship with his wily opposite number, who has run Russia for 18
years.

Trump began the day by firing a Twitter broadside at his domestic
opponents, blaming the diplomatic chill on the investigation into alleged
Russian election meddling.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of
U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump
tweeted.

Russia’s foreign ministry tweeted in response: “We agree.”

Trump’s US opponents tried, in turn, to gain traction for the sarcastic
hashtag lampooning his reluctance to criticise the Kremlin: #BAF (Blame
America First).

– ‘Fake news’ –

After a stormy NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump was accused by
critics of prioritising his ties to Putin over the transatlantic alliance.

But over breakfast with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto, he insisted
NATO “has never been stronger” and “never been more together” thanks to his
insistence on all allies paying their fair share.

In a weekend interview with CBS News, Trump admitted that Russia remains a
foe, but he put Moscow on a par with China and the European Union as economic
and diplomatic rivals.

The Kremlin has also played down hopes that the odd couple will emerge
from their first formal one-on-one summit with a breakthrough.

Indeed, after the bad-tempered NATO summit and a contentious trip by Trump
to Britain, anxious European leaders may be relieved if not much comes out of
the Helsinki meeting.

Those leaders are already fuming over Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs
on various countries, including Russia.

Turning the tables, European Union President Donald Tusk said Trump was
guilty of “spreading fake news” with his remark about foes, and warned that
the trade tensions could spiral into violent “conflict and chaos”.

“Europe and China, America and Russia, today in Beijing and in Helsinki,
are jointly responsible for improving the world order, not for destroying
it,” he tweeted.

“I hope this message reaches Helsinki.”

Protesters have been on the streets of Helsinki to denounce the policies
of both Trump and Putin. Greenpeace draped a giant banner down a church tower
urging: “Warm our hearts not our planet.”

– Giving up ground? –

Trump is also under pressure from Britain to press Putin over the nerve
agent poisoning of four people in southern England.

One of the victims, Dawn Sturgess, has died and her 19-year-old son Ewan
Hope told the Sunday Mirror newspaper: “We need to get justice for my mum.”

But US allies and many at home fear that Trump will fail to stand up to
Putin.

Trump has refused to personally commit to the US refusal to recognise
Russia’s annexation of Crimea, leaving open the possibility of a climbdown
linked to a promise by Putin to somehow rein in Iranian influence in Syria.

And there will be outrage at home if Trump does not confront Putin over
the election scandal.

But the US leader would not say whether he would demand the extradition of
the 12 Russian intelligence officers who were indicted last week by US
special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

BSS/AFP/BZC/2010HRS