President Donald Trump told his Russian counterpart that he would discuss "everything from trade to military to missiles to nuclear to China" during their one-on-one meeting at a high-stakes summit in Helsinki Monday.
Not mentioned in his opening remarks during a handshake photo opportunity: Moscow's interference in the 2016 presidential election, a topic Trump had promised to press Russian President Vladimir Putin on after 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted last week for stealing Democratic campaign emails.
"Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing," Trump told Putin. "I think the world really wants us to get along."
The summit started nearly an hour behind schedule. Putin made Trump wait for him, arriving late in Helsinki as the two leaders attempted yet another reset of U.S-Russian relations. Greeting each other at Finland's presidential palace, Trump said the World Cup soccer tournament that ended in Russia Sunday night was "one of the best ever."
Then they sat down for what was to be a 90-minute, closed-door, one-on-one session — with only translators in the room.
That relationship "has never been worse," Trump said as he started his day in Helsinki, blaming the friction on what he called a "Rigged Witch Hunt" investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In a series of tweets Monday, Trump complained about the FBI investigation and faulted President Barack Obama for not stopping Russian attempts to meddle in the vote.
"President Obama thought that Crooked Hillary was going to win the election, so when he was informed by the FBI about Russian Meddling, he said it couldn’t happen, was no big deal, & did NOTHING about it," Trump said. "When I won it became a big deal and the Rigged Witch Hunt headed by Strzok!"
Peter Strzok is the former FBI agent whose anti-Trump text messages have prompted congressional investigations into political bias at the FBI.
"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.
The Russian Foreign Ministry responded: "We agree."
Russian state-run news and propaganda sites also quickly seized on the news, with Kremlin-controlled Sputnik News reporting that Trump had "harshly criticized Washington's policy toward Moscow."
Following the one-on-one meeting, Trump and Putin will then have a larger meeting with other U.S. and Russian officials, and end the day with a joint press conference.
Putin arrived late to Helsinki, pushing back Trump's departure for the Finnish presidential palace where meetings will take place. The Russian president, who has a habit of making other works leaders wait on him, was running at least an hour late after attending Sunday night’s World Cup final in Moscow.
The reason for Putin's delay was not clear.
But Trump responded in kind, waiting until Putin had arrived at the presidential palace for the summit before leaving his hotel to greet the Russian president.
Asked what he will say to Putin Monday, Trump said, "We'll do just fine."
But the meeting also comes just four days after the Justice Department announced indictments of 12 Russian intelligence agents for a campaign to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. Those agents broke into Democratic Party email servers, stole tens of thousands of messages, and leaked them on Russian-controlled web sites.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Trump and Putin "are quite good at talking," but that Russia needs to stay vigilant given Trump's call for a military buildup by NATO.
He said Putin would deny any attempt to disrupt U.S. elections.
"Everything that happens, all these investigations and so on — this is an internal affair of the United States," Peskov told the state-run broadcaster Russia Today. "We are puzzled with many aspects of these investigations in the part that concerns us and our country, but let's leave it behind the brackets."
Trump began his day with the host of the summit, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.
“We think Finland’s a great country," Trump said, thanking Niinisto for his support at a contentious NATO summit last week in Brussels. Although Finland is not a member of the alliance, it does cooperate on peacekeeping, training and security missions.
"NATO has, I think, never been stronger. It was a little bit tough at the beginning, but it turned out to be love. I appreciated your support," Trump said.
Soure: USA Today