HELSINKI (AP) – President Donald Trump arrived in Finland on Sunday for a closely watched one-on-one summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, hours after telling an interviewer that he was going into the meeting on Monday with “low expectations.”
On the way to meet with a leader who has cracked down on the press in his country, Trump tweeted that the U.S. news media is the “enemy of the people” and complained that “No matter how well I do at the Summit” he’ll face “criticism that it wasn’t good enough.”
Trump also said in the interview that he had given no thought to asking Putin to extradite the dozen Russian military intelligence officers indicted this past week in 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” although extradition is high unlikely. The U.S. doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Moscow and can’t force the Russians to hand over citizens. Russia’s constitution also prohibits turning over citizens to foreign governments.
Trump flew to Finland, the final stop on a weeklong trip that began last Tuesday, from Scotland. He and his wife, Melania, spent the weekend at a golf resort Trump owns in Turnberry. He was returning to the White House after Monday’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki, the Finnish capital.
Near Trump’s hotel, police roped off a group of about 60 mostly male pro-Trump demonstrators waving American flags. Big banners said “Welcome Trump” and “God Bless D & M Trump” and a helicopter hovered overhead.
Chants of “We Love Trump, We Love Trump” broke out as the president’s motorcade passed and Trump waved.
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said it would be “pretty silly” for Trump to ask Putin to hand over the indicted Russians.
“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,” Bolton said in a separate interview.
Trump told CBS News that he’s going into 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 and cited his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his meetings 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,” particularly on trade.
“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 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” and complained that he’ll face criticism regardless of the summit outcome.
“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 having created 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 attended an international summit and lasted 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 and Jamey Keaten in Helsinki contributed to this report.