U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Huntsman said on Friday that President Donald Trump will “hold Russia accountable for its malign activity” in meetings with NATO allies and Russian President Vladimir Putin over the next two weeks.
“The president believes a better relationship with Russia would be good for both America and Russia, but the ball really is in Russia’s court and the president will continue to hold Russia accountable for its malign activity. We’re entering with our eyes wide open, but peace is always worth the effort,” said Huntsman.
Reuters notes that Trump himself has said he will discuss Russian election meddling, Syria, and Ukraine when he meets with Putin on July 16.
Huntsman indicated that arms control treaties “will be part of the discussion as well.” U.S. Representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison added that Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty would be reviewed with NATO.
NATO funding will surely be discussed when President Trump meets with the organization’s leadership in Brussels next week. Trump wrote letters this week forcefully encouraging other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to spend more on their own defense and warning that the U.S. grows weary of shouldering the burden for Europe’s defense.
“The United States continues to devote more resources to the defense of Europe when the Continent’s economy, including Germany’s, are doing well and security challenges abound. This is no longer sustainable for us,” Trump reportedly wrote to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments, because others see you as a role model,” Trump told Merkel.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted on Thursday that European nations are making progress toward meeting their military spending commitments. He banked on Trump recognizing this progress and understanding “it is in the interest of the United States to maintain a strong transatlantic bond.”
Critics of Trump’s foreign policy are worried his dispute with NATO, soon after a tense Group of Seven summit, will be taken as a sign of weakness in the alliance by Putin. Trump’s most energetic adversaries believe he is inexcusably soft on Vladimir Putin if not secretly in cahoots with the Russian leader. Conversely, the U.S. president seems to get along very poorly with the chancellor of Germany.
Stoltenberg indicated he was comfortable with Trump’s level of resolve and said NATO wants to develop better relations with Russia.
“Russia is our neighbor. Russia is here to stay and we have to strive for a better relationship and therefore I welcome the fact that President Trump will meet President Putin. Dialogue with Russia is absolutely consistent with NATO policies,” he said.
Huntsman told reporters on Friday that Trump’s summit with Putin in Helsinki on July 16 will begin with a one-on-one meeting, followed by an expanded meeting with top advisers present. He hoped the summit would “help reduce tensions and lead to constructive engagement that improves peace and security around the world because you can’t solve problems if you’re not talking about them.”
Appearing on Fox News Sunday this week, National Security Adviser John Bolton said no one should “have a case of the vapors” over Trump’s meetings with Putin.
“The main rationale to have a bilateral meeting between Trump and Putin: let them discuss these issues and see exactly where there might be room for progress, or where they might find there’s no room at all,” he said.
President Trump himself addressed complaints about meeting with the former KGB head of malign Russia at a rally on Thursday.
“Do you know what? Putin’s fine, he’s fine, we’re all fine, we’re people. Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I have been preparing for this stuff my whole life,” said Trump.