(CNSNews.com) – Ahead of his first one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, President Trump played down the significance of the closely-watched encounter, saying he was going into the talks “with low expectations” and adding his trademark, “we’ll see.”
Trump, who landed in Helsinki on Sunday night and is overnighting at a hotel in the Finnish capital, told CBS News before leaving Britain that he believes in holding meetings with leaders of the likes of Russia, China and North Korea.
Asked his goal for the meeting with Putin, Trump said, “I’ll let you know after the meeting. I have absolutely – it was mutually agreed, let’s have a meeting. I think it’s a good thing to meet.”
“I do believe in meetings,” he continued, adding that he believed it was a “good thing” to have held meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“So having meetings with Russia, China, North Korea, I believe in it,” Trump said. “Nothing bad is going to come out of it, and maybe some good will come out. But I go in with low expectations I'm not going with high expectations. I don’t really – I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. But I can tell you what I’ll be asking for and we’ll see if something comes of it.”
Trump also said that “getting along with Russia is a good thing. But it's possible we won’t.”
“I think we're greatly hampered by this whole witch hunt that's going on in the United States,” he said, in reference to persistent Democratic allegations of “collusion” between Moscow and the Trump camp during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Putin has frequently denied the allegations, saying for example during an end-of-year press conference late last year that the claims had been “invented by the people who stand in opposition to Mr. Trump, to present his work as illegitimate.”
On Friday the Department of Justice announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers suspected of trying to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, through an effort to hack into the computer servers of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
“There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity or knew they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers,” the department said in a release. “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the vote count or changed the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Asked by CBS News whether he would ask Putin to hand over the 12 indicted Russians for trial, Trump replied, “Well I might. I hadn’t thought of that.” He would “certainly” be raising questions about the issue with Putin. (The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia.)
He repeated comments made in a tweet over the weekend underlining the fact that the alleged Russian interference took place during the Obama administration.
“They were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration,” he said, adding that he has been informed that the Republican National Committee was also targeted by hackers.
“I heard that they were trying – or people were trying, to hack into the RNC too,” he said. “We had much better defenses, so they couldn’t.”
“I think the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked. They had bad defenses and they were able to be hacked. But I heard they were trying to hack the Republicans too. But – and this may be wrong – but they had much stronger defenses.”
In a tweet posted on Saturday, Trump pointed out that the 12 Russians were indicted for alleged hacking committed during the Obama administration.
“Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?” he asked.
Apart from the issue of election interference, a number of other issues that have troubled U.S.-Russia relations in recent years, including Russia’s military involvement in support of the Assad regime and its interference in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea; perennial Russian objections to NATO enlargement and missile defense in Europe; and concerns about a renewed arms race.
It will be the first standalone meeting between the presidents, although they met on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Germany last summer and again in November on the fringes of an APEC leaders’ meeting in Vietnam.
Trump will have breakfast with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the presidential palace on Monday morning. He is then scheduled to meet with Putin – first with just the two presidents and interpreters in the room for 90 minutes, followed by an expanded, two-hour session incorporating a working lunch.
Security has been beefed up in the capital, which traditionally sees a summer exodus to the countryside, with police officers drafted in from around the country. A number of protests took place in Helsinki on Sunday and more are expected on Monday.
Finland, a European Union (but not NATO) member which borders Russia, has a history of hosting summits between leaders in Moscow and the West, including the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe which culminated in 1975 with the signing of the Helsinki Accords, aimed at improving ties between the communist bloc and the West.
Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev met in the city in 1990 to discuss a response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.
Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin met there in 1997 to discuss arms control and Russian concerns about NATO’s post-Cold War eastward expansion.