President Donald Trump is setting expectations low for his high-stakes summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, assuring that “nothing bad … and maybe some good will come out” of Monday’s meeting in Finland. His national security adviser said they aren’t looking for “concrete deliverables.”
Trump also tells CBS News in an interview conducted Saturday that he “hadn’t thought” about asking Putin to extradite the dozen Russian military intelligence officers indicted this past week in Washington on charges related to the hacking of Democratic targets in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But after being given the idea by his interviewer, Trump said “certainly I’ll be asking about it.”
He blamed the Democratic National Committee for “allowing themselves to be hacked” by Russians trying to help elect him.
The U.S. has no extradition treaty with Moscow and can’t compel Russia to hand over citizens. Russia’s constitution prohibits extraditing its citizens to foreign countries.
Asked whether Trump would ask Putin to turn over the 12 military intelligence officials, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton called the idea “pretty silly” and said doing so would put the president in a “weak position.”
He said Trump goes into the summit with a stronger hand because of the indictments.
“I think the president can put this on the table and say, ‘This is a serious matter that we need to talk about,'” Bolton said. He said asking for the indicted Russians to be turned over would have the opposite effect.
“For the president to demand something that isn’t going to happen puts the president in a weak position, and I think the president has made it very clear he intends to approach this discussion from a position of strength.”
In the CBS News interview, Trump said he’s entering the Helsinki summit with “low expectations. I’m not going with high expectations.” He declined to discuss his goals, but said such sessions are beneficial. He cited his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June as a “good thing,” along with meetings he’s had with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Nothing bad is going to come out of it (Helsinki), and maybe some good will come out,” Trump said.
He described the European Union, a bloc of nation’s that includes many of America’s closest allies, as a “foe.”
“I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade,” Trump said, adding that “you wouldn’t think of the European Union but they’re a foe.”
He said Russia is a foe “in certain respects” and that China is a foe “economically … but that doesn’t mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean anything. It means that they are competitive.” Trump has been reluctant to criticize Putin over the years and has described him as a competitor in recent days.
Trump said he respects Europe’s leaders but adds that they’ve taken advantage of the U.S. on trade and defense spending.
The president sat for the interview Saturday in Scotland and CBS News released excerpts on Sunday, hours before Trump flew to Helsinki. From aboard Air Force One, Trump called the U.S. news media “the enemy of the people” as he headed to sit down with Putin, who has cracked down on the press at home.
Trump complained that “No matter how well I do at the Summit” he’ll face “criticism that it wasn’t good enough.”
“If I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough — that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!” he tweeted.
Trump also said: “Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people.”
Putin is regarded as creating a culture of violence and impunity that has resulted in the killing of some Russian journalists. Trump regularly criticizes American news media outlets and has called out some journalists by name.
Trump and Putin have held talks twice before. Their first meeting came last July while both participated in an international summit and continued for more than two hours, well over the scheduled 30 minutes. The leaders also met last fall during a separate summit in Vietnam.
But Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, said Monday’s meeting “is really the first time for both presidents to actually sit across the table and have a conversation and I hope it’s a detailed conversation about where we might be able to find some overlapping and shared interests.”
Congressional Democrats and at least one Republican have called on Trump to pull out of Monday’s meeting unless he is willing to make Russian election-meddling the top issue. Huntsman said the summit must go on because Russian engagement is needed to solve some international issues.
“The collective blood pressure between the United States and Russia is off-the-charts high so it’s a good thing these presidents are getting together,” he said.
Trump has said he will raise the issue of Russian election meddling, along with Syria, Ukraine, nuclear proliferation and other topics. Bolton described the meeting as “unstructured” and said: “We’re not looking for concrete deliverables here.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., rejected Bolton’s assertion that the indictments put Trump in a stronger position going in to the meeting.
“He has already said that he has asked Putin about meddling, Putin told him he didn’t do it, and he believed him,” Murphy said. “And so it just belies common sense that the president of the United States, this president, is going to sit down across from Putin and press him hard on the issue of Russian meddling.”
Putin has denied meddling in the election.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said it’s inevitable that Russia will interfere in U.S. elections and that it’s pointless for Trump to confront Putin about it.
Paul said both countries spy on each other but adds that Russian interference in the 2016 election isn’t “morally equivalent” to U.S. interference in Russian elections, but “I think in their mind it is.”
Huntsman was interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Paul appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Bolton and Murphy spoke on ABC’s “This Week.”
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.