BRUSSELS — President Trump pledged Thursday that will “of course” raise the issue of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election at his summit next week with the country’s leader, Vladimir Putin, but insisted that there was little he could do if — as expected — Putin denies that Russia interfered.
“Look, he may. What am I going to do? He may deny it,” Trump said. “All I can do is say, ‘Did you?’ And, ‘Don’t do it again.’ But he may deny it. You’ll be the first to know.”
In a news conference at the NATO summit here, Trump also continued to strike a friendly tone toward the Russian leader, calling him a “competitor” rather than an enemy of the United States.
“Somebody was saying, is he an enemy? He’s not my enemy. Is he your friend? No, I don’t know him very much,” Trump told reporters at the hastily called news conference here. “Hopefully, someday, he’ll be a friend. It could happen.”
Trump and Putin are set to meet at a highly anticipated summit in Helsinki next week. Trump said at his news conference that he will raise several other issues at that meeting including the conflict in Syria, Ukraine and extension of the new START treaty.
When asked whether he would recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in his meeting with Putin, Trump did not respond directly and instead blamed Barack Obama, who was president when the annexation occurred.
“Would I have allowed it to happen?” Trump said. “No.”
Trump also insisted that other world leaders here at the NATO summit expressed “just the opposite of concern” about his pending meeting with Putin.
“They actually thanked me for meeting with President Putin,” Trump said. “They thought it was a great thing that I was doing it, and they gave us our best wishes, or their best wishes.”