06/28/18 08:13 AM EDT
JORDAN FABIAN AND BRETT SAMUELS
President Trump will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, Finland, the White House announced Thursday, an opportunity for both leaders to form a closer relationship despite heightened tensions between their countries.
“The two leaders will discuss relations between the United States and Russia and a range of national security issues,” the White House said in a statement.
The high-stakes meeting will take place at the end of Trump’s previously scheduled trip to Europe next month, which includes a summit with NATO allies on July 11-12 in Brussels and a stop in the United Kingdom on July 13. Putin plans to attend the World Cup final on July 15 in Moscow.
he White House and the Kremlin made the joint announcement one day after U.S. national security adviser John Bolton held talks with Putin and other Russian officials to finalize plans for the summit.
Trump has long sought to form a personal friendship with his Russian counterpart in an effort to resolve longstanding problems, such as election interference and Moscow’s involvement in Syria and Ukraine, and he has heaped praise on Putin ever since taking office.
About half an hour before the summit was announced, Trump tweeted that Russia continues to deny it interfered in the 2016 presidential election and repeated his criticisms of former FBI Director James Comey and Trump’s one-time Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!” he wrote.
That message cast doubt on reassurances from Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who both said they were confident Trump would raise the issue of election meddling with Putin. The U.S. intelligence community unanimously concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 contest in order to aid Trump and hurt Clinton.
The president’s decision to stage a summit with the Russian leader is sure to irk U.S. allies in Europe and members of Congress, who fear Trump is taking actions that could break apart the post-World War II international order.
Trump chastised traditional U.S. partners Canada and Germany on trade during a contentious Group of Seven summit earlier this month and has consistently questioned the value of the NATO alliance because he believes member nations are not spending enough on defense.
The Trump-Putin summit will likely spark criticism at home as well, since it will take place as special counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate whether Trump’s team colluded with Moscow to interfere in the last presidential contest.
Trump again took aim at the special counsel in a tweet following the summit announcement, asking “when is Bob Mueller going to list his Conflicts of Interest?”
“Why has it taken so long? Will they be listed at the top of his $22,000,000 Report…And what about the 13 Angry Democrats, will they list their conflicts with Crooked H?”
Mueller is a Republican who was appointed by Trump’s hand-picked deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
Speaking on Wednesday in Moscow, Bolton said it is “complete nonsense” to think the meeting proves that there is something untoward about the Trump-Putin relationship.
“The president determined that, despite the political noise in the U.S., direct communication between him and President Putin was in the interest of the United States, in the interest of Russia, and in the interest of peace and security around the world,” he said.
–Updated at 8:57 a.m.
Source: The Hill