EU an economic ‘foe’, Trump says in advance of Putin meeting

US president downplays expectations for landmark summit with Russian counterpart

US president Donald Trump meets with Good Morning Britain's Piers Morgan to discuss meeting Queen Elizabeth, Brexit and running for re-election in 2020. Video: Good Morning Britain/Reuters

 

US president Donald Trump landed in Helsinki on Sunday night for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, hours after branding the European Union a “foe” to America.

Mr Trump’s comments, in an interview with CBS, were the latest in a series of incendiary interventions by the US president during a six-day visit to Europe in which he criticised European allies and denounced the Russia investigation as a “witch-hunt.”

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Trump downplayed expectations for Monday’s landmark summit. “I’m not going with high expectations,” he told CBS.

But he defended his decision to meet the Russian leader, amid calls for him to cancel the summit following the indictment of 12 Russian individuals by the US department of justice on Friday.

“I think it’s a good thing to meet. I do believe in meetings. I believe that having a meeting with Chairman Kim was a good thing,” Mr Trump said. “Nothing bad is going to come out of it, and maybe some good will come out.”

In the pre-summit interview with CBS News’s Face the Nation programme aired on Sunday, Trump lumped the EU in with China and Russia as US economic adversaries. “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade,” he said.

Mr Trump’s meeting with the Russian president takes place after a tumultuous six days of diplomacy, during which the US president lashed out at Nato and directly criticised the leadership of German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister Theresa May.

Brexit

In an interview with British broadcaster Piers Morgan, due to be broadcast on Monday, Mr Trump revealed some of his conversation with Queen Elizabeth on Friday in a breach of protocol. He said they had discussed Brexit, which the Queen had described as a “very complex problem”. He also repeatedly described the Queen as “so beautiful” inside and out and “a very special person”.

Ms May said on a Sunday morning interview that during discussions on Friday the US president had advised her to sue the EU rather than negotiate with the bloc over Brexit.

Monday’s meeting with Mr Putin, which takes place in the Finnish presidential palace in Helsinki, will finish with a joint press conference between the two men.

Asked if he would request that Putin extradite the 12 Russians indicted on Friday for interfering in the 2016 presidential election, Mr Trump said he hadn’t thought about it, but that he might.

But throughout the weekend he repeated his claims that the Russia investigation was a “rigged witch-hunt,” and blamed former US president Barack Obama for not tackling the issue of Russian interference.

“These Russian individuals did their work during the Obama years. Why didn’t Obama do something about it? Because he thought Crooked Hillary Clinton would win, that’s why,” he tweeted from Scotland.

Mr Trump also suggested during his press conference on Friday that Mr Obama was to blame for Russia’s incursion into Crimea in 2014.

“Again, President Obama failed very badly with Crimea,” he said when asked why he was continuing to meet Mr Putin, given that Russia had illegally occupied Crimea. “I don’t think he would have done that if I were president. He took over Crimea, and he actually took it over during the Obama administration.”

Mr Trump spent the weekend at his golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, before leaving for Helsinki on Sunday afternoon. His visit was marred by protests outside his golf club as the president played golf on Saturday.

The meeting between the US and Russian leaders takes place days after the Nato summit in Brussels during which leaders – including Mr Trump – reiterated their criticism of Russia. “Russia’s aggressive actions, including the threat and use of force to attain political goals, challenge the alliance and are undermining Euro-Atlantic security and the rules-based international order,” the final communique said.

While the US has expelled dozens of Russian diplomats, and imposed sanctions on Russian individuals, Mr Trump has questioned whether Russia interfered in the US election. On Friday he said the Russia investigation was “hurting” the US and its relationship with Russia.