Trump: Putin summit 'may be easier' than NATO, UK visit

Trump: Putin summit 'may be easier' than NATO, UK visit
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE on Tuesday would not say if he views Russian President Vladimir Putin as a friend or foe, instead labeling him a “competitor” on the world stage. 

Trump also suggested his meeting early next week with the Russia leader could be the smoothest part of a weeklong trip that includes a NATO summit and a visit to the United Kingdom, which views itself as having a "special relationship" with the United States.

Speaking to reporters before departing the White House for the meetings in Europe, Trump said, “Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all.”

Of whether Putin is a friend or foe, Trump said: “I really can’t say right now. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a competitor.”

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The president also defended his efforts to improve ties with Russia despite the U.S. intelligence community's findings that Moscow interfered in last year's elections.

“I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China, getting along with others, is a good thing, not a bad thing,” the president added.

Trump is set to meet Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16 after visiting Brussels for the NATO summit. He will also stop in England and Scotland.

The comments could heighten fears among U.S. allies and lawmakers that Trump could make too many concessions to Russia while antagonizing European partners.  

Trump earlier Tuesday escalated his criticism of NATO one day before a summit with nations in the pact, tweeting they “must pay MORE" for defense, while the United States "must pay LESS.”

“NATO has not treated us fairly, but I think we’ll work something out. We pay far too much and they pay far too little,” he said later on the South Lawn. 

The president also took aim at the European Union, saying the U.S. is “being taken advantage of” by the economic bloc. 

That came after pointed criticism from European Council President Donald Tusk.

“Dear @realDonaldTrump. US doesn’t have and won’t have a better ally than EU. We spend on defense much more than Russia and as much as China. I hope you have no doubt this is an investment in our security, which cannot be said with confidence about Russian & Chinese spending :-),” Tusk tweeted. 

Trump has been criticized by Democrats, and some Republicans, for taking a tough line with allies like the United Kingdom while offering compliments for adversaries Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 

Administration officials have noted that Trump has imposed some tough punishments on Russia, including sanctions for its actions on the election.