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Trump promises an 'extraordinary relationship' as he opens summit with Putin

The pair’s Helsinki Summit may take the heat out of some of the world’s most dangerous conflicts.

Updated Jul 16th 2018, 1:00 PM

Finland Trump Putin Summit US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hand at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland Source: Pablo Martinez Monsivais via PA Images

THE US AND Russian leaders opened a historic summit in Helsinki today with Donald Trump promising an “extraordinary relationship” and Vladimir Putin saying it was high time to thrash out disputes around the world.

Looking sombre, they exchanged opening remarks in front of the press at the start of the summit in Helsinki.

“The time has come to talk in a substantive way about our relations and problem areas of the world,” Putin said.

Trump congratulated Putin on Russia’s hosting of the World Cup football tournament, which climaxed yesterday in Moscow with the Kremlin chief in attendance.

Trump said the summit would cover “everything from trade to military to missiles to nuclear to China”.

“I think we have great opportunities together as two countries. Frankly, we have not been getting along for the last number of years,” Trump added.

“I’ve not been here too long [as president], it’s getting close to two years, but we’ll be having an extraordinary relationship, I hope so.”

The summit would cover nuclear disarmament, said Trump, who has bridled at the rapid expansion and modernisation by Putin of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

“And I really think the world wants to see us get along. We are the two great nuclear powers. We have 90% of the nuclear, and that’s not a good thing. That’s a bad thing.

“And with that the world awaits, and I look forward to our personal discussion,” Trump added, as the two leaders went into the first session between just themselves and their interpreters.

Lead up to meeting

Trump magnate has been president for 18 months, while the 65-year-old former KGB officer, Putin, has run Russia for the past 18 years.

Trump nevertheless has a high opinion of his ability to woo tough opponents, such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, whom he met at a summit last month.

“I think it’s a good thing to meet. I do believe in meetings,” Trump insisted in an interview with CBS News that aired before he touched down in Helsinki.

In the same interview, Trump admitted that Russia remains a foe, but he put Moscow on a par with China and the European Union as economic and diplomatic rivals.

The Kremlin has also played down hopes that the odd couple will emerge from their first formal one-on-one summit having resolved the issues poisoning relations.

Giving up ground?

(SP)RUSSIA-MOSCOW-2018 WORLD CUP-FINAL-FRANCE VS CROATIA Putin pats the World Cup trophy at yesterday's final. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Indeed, after a week in which Trump threatened to up-end a summit of the NATO allies, anxious European leaders may be relieved if not much comes of the Helsinki meeting.

Many fear that Trump – in his eagerness to prove that he was right to seek the summit with Putin despite Russia’s often hostile stance – may give up too much ground.

In the run-up to talks, Trump has refused to personally commit to the US refusal to recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea, leaving open the possibility of a climb-down.

If Washington were to de facto accept Russia’s 2014 land-grab, this would break with decades of US policy send tremors through NATO’s exposed eastern flank.

Trump’s critics in Washington will be watching this – and also how he handles the growing evidence that Russian agents intervened in America’s 2016 presidential race.

Last week US special prosecutor Robert Mueller indicted 12 more Russian intelligence officers for allegedly hacking Trump rival Hillary Clinton’s computer server.

There will be outrage at home if Trump does not confront Putin over the scandal, but the mercurial US leader would not say whether he would demand the suspects’ extradition.

“Well, I might. I hadn’t thought of that. But I certainly… I’ll be asking about it,” Trump told CBS.

Senior diplomat and now chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass said that for centuries world order has depended on “non-interference in the internal affairs of others and respect for sovereignty.”

“Russia has violated this norm by seizing Crimea and by interfering in the 2016 US election. We must deal with Putin’s Russia as the rogue state it is,” he tweeted.

But of all the topics that may come up in the meetings, it is Syria that may prove most important.

Despite the doubts of his top national security advisers, Trump is keen to withdraw US troops from eastern Syria, where they have been battling the Islamic State.

Reports suggest he may seek a deal that Russia work with Israel to contain Iran’s influence, in exchange for allowing Putin’s ally Bashar al-Assad to stay in power.

This could free up US troops to withdraw, but would also – as with Crimea – mark a major victory for Putin and a betrayal of local US allies on the ground.

Trump and Putin are due to hold a press conference later today.

© – AFP 2018

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