U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he could not say if Vladimir Putin is a friend or foe, and that a meeting with the Russian president could be the easiest part of a tour of Europe that includes a NATO meeting and a visit to Britain.
Speaking to reporters at the White House before leaving on the week-long trip, Trump repeated his criticism of NATO allies for not spending enough on their defense and pointed to the political tensions in Britain over the government's Brexit plans.
"So I have NATO, I have the UK which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?" Trump said. Trump made waves in the British press by calling Boris Johnson, who yesterday quit Prime Minister Theresa May's government, "a friend" - while refusing to back her government.
"We'll see how that goes," he said of the summit with Putin to be held in Helsinki on Monday.
Asked if Putin is a friend or foe, Trump said: "I really can't say right now. As far as I'm concerned, a competitor."
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Trump, whose 2016 election campaign is being probed for possible collusion with Russia, has said repeatedly he wants to have a good relationship with Washington’s former Cold War foe, despite tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine, Syria and alleged election meddling around the world.
Trump has denied any collusion with Russia.