Trump sets expectations low for Helsinki summit with Putin
By JILL COLVIN, Associated Press
GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — President Donald Trump says “nothing bad … maybe some good” will come out of Monday’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as he attempted to lower expectations for what the meeting may actually achieve. Trump’s national security adviser said they aren’t looking for “concrete deliverables.”
Trump also says 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 says “certainly I’ll be asking about it.”
He blamed the Democratic National Committee for “allowing themselves to be hacked.”
The U.S. has no extradition treaty with Moscow and can’t compel Russia to hand over citizens, and a provision in 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 is going 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 interview with CBS News, Trump said he’s entering the meeting in Finland with “low expectations. I’m not going with high expectations.”
Trump taped the interview Saturday in Scotland. CBS News released excerpts Sunday, hours before Trump was set to fly to Helsinki for the summit. Trump said such sessions are beneficial. He cited his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June as “a good thing” and says “having meetings with Russia, China, North Korea, I believe in it.”
“Nothing bad is going to come out of it (Helsinki), and maybe some good will come out,” he said.
Trump and Putin have met twice before, during international summits last year in Germany and in Vietnam. But Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, says 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.”
The president opened his first meeting with Putin — it lasted more than two hours last July in Hamburg, Germany — by pressing Putin on Russian election meddling and Putin denied being involved, according to U.S. officials who described the meeting afterward.
Congressional Democrats and at least one Republican have called on the president to pull out of Monday’s meeting unless he is willing to make Russian election-meddling the top issue. Huntsman said the meeting must go on because some international issues can’t be solved without Russian engagement.
“Right now, there’s no trust in the relationship and, because of that, problem-solving is practically impossible,” Huntsman said. “So 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.”
Huntsman added: “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.”
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,” saying: “We’re not looking for concrete deliverables here.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., meanwhile, suggested that Trump not even bother to press Putin on election meddling because “he’s not going to admit that he did it.” Instead, Paul said Trump and other U.S. officials should focus on safeguarding upcoming elections from interference.
Huntsman was interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Paul appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and Bolton spoke with ABC’s “This Week.”