In Europe, Trump gets a sound chance to make 1st im­pres­sion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will learn this week whether he gets a sec­ond chance to make a first im­pres­sion as he re­turns to Europe and has his first en­counter with Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin. Trump’s first visit to the con­ti­nent in May stirred anx­i­eties among Euro­pean al­lies when he de­clined to en­dorse NATO’s com­mon de­fense treaty ex­plic­itly and scolded world lead­ers for not spend­ing more on their armed forces. This time, Trump will use stops in Poland and Ger­many to try to pull off the tricky bal­anc­ing act of im­prov­ing ties with Moscow at a time of par­tic­u­larly fraught re­la­tions while also pre­sent­ing the US as a check against Rus­sian ag­gres­sion.

Trump is leav­ing Wash­ing­ton for Europe to­day. In what may be the most-watched event of the four-day trip, the pres­i­dent will meet Putin on the side­lines of an in­ter­na­tional sum­mit meet­ing in Ham­burg, Ger­many. Ev­ery as­pect of the meet­ing be­tween the two un­pre­dictable lead­ers is sure to be closely scru­ti­nized as in­ves­ti­ga­tions press on into al­leged Moscow med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion and po­ten­tial Trump cam­paign col­lu­sion.

With those in­ves­ti­ga­tions hang­ing heavy in the air, there is lit­tle ex­pec­ta­tion the meet­ing will pro­duce sig­nif­i­cant progress on dif­fi­cult is­sues such as the cri­sis in Ukraine or the con­flict in Syria. “I can’t imag­ine any is­sue they can ac­tu­ally make ma­jor head­way on, given the poi­son that sur­rounds the re­la­tion­ship,” said Michael O’Han­lon, a se­nior fel­low in for­eign pol­icy at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, who sug­gested it might lay the ground­work for fu­ture co­op­er­a­tion. The Trump-Putin en­counter will be one of at least nine meet­ings the US pres­i­dent will have with for­eign lead­ers while in Ham­burg for a Group of 20 sum­mit of de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing na­tions, be­gin­ning Fri­day.

But first Trump will stop in Poland, where lead­ers are look­ing for re­as­sur­ance that the pres­ence of US and NATO troops there will con­tinue as long as the re­gion’s se­cu­rity is threat­ened by a resur­gent Rus­sia. In re­turn, Trump will be ex­pect­ing a warm re­cep­tion as he pays homage to Pol­ish re­solve with a speech Thurs­day in Krasin­ski Square, his first ma­jor out­door ad­dress in a for­eign coun­try. Poland’s lead­ers are closely aligned with Trump’s world­view, and rul­ing party law­mak­ers and pro-gov­ern­ment ac­tivists plan to bus in groups to help en­sure an en­thu­si­as­tic crowd for Trump af­ter his rather awk­ward Euro­pean de­but in May.

Pre­view­ing the trip, White House of­fi­cials said Trump would re­it­er­ate the US com­mit­ment to NATO’s Ar­ti­cle 5, which says an at­tack on one mem­ber is an at­tack on all - some­thing he didn’t do at NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels dur­ing his first over­seas trip but even­tu­ally en­dorsed last month. The pres­i­dent is also ex­pected to cite the need to de­velop “a com­mon ap­proach to Rus­sia,” his ad­vis­ers said. “He’d like the United States and the en­tire West to de­velop a more con­struc­tive re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia,” said the White House na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, HR McMaster.

“But he’s also made clear that we will do what is nec­es­sary to con­front Rus­sia’s desta­bi­liz­ing be­hav­ior.” Pre­par­ing for the trip, Trump spoke Mon­day with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Paolo Gen­tiloni. Ear­lier in the hol­i­day week­end, he had con­ver­sa­tions with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and the lead­ers of Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates and Qatar. Af­ter this trip, the pres­i­dent will be back in Europe soon for a mid-July visit to France to cel­e­brate Bastille Day along­side new French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron. And in late July, he’ll send Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence to Es­to­nia and Ge­or­gia - two for­mer Soviet satel­lites strad­dling the Rus­sian bor­der - and new NATO mem­ber Mon­tene­gro.

Poland has been a staunch US ally in Iraq and Afghanistan and is home to about 5,000 US troops serv­ing in sep­a­rate Amer­i­can and NATO mis­sions. “They’re bet­ting that this re­la­tion­ship with the United States on de­fense will bal­ance their con­cerns about the pos­si­ble di­rec­tions of US-Rus­sia pol­icy,” said Jeff Rathke, a se­nior fel­low and deputy di­rec­tor of the Europe Pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. Shar­ing a bor­der with Rus­sia “is of the high­est con­cern for Poland.”

US-Rus­sian re­la­tions re­main tense - Trump said in April they may be at an “all-time low” and Moscow has de­nounced the re­cent de­ci­sion by the US to im­pose sanc­tions on more than three dozen Rus­sian peo­ple and firms over Rus­sian ac­tiv­i­ties in Ukraine. But Trump has ex­pressed hopes of im­proved re­la­tions with the global power. White House aides said Trump did not have a spe­cific agenda for the meet­ing with the Rus­sian pres­i­dent and they have yet to pro­vide de­tails on the stag­ing for the en­counter.

Trump has had three phone calls with Putin since tak­ing of­fice. In the past, he’s of­fered con­tra­dic­tory de­scrip­tions of his con­nec­tions with Putin, in­sist­ing dur­ing the cam­paign he had no rec­ol­lec­tion of meet­ing him but ear­lier stat­ing that they spoke around the 2013 Miss Uni­verse pageant in Moscow. Trump’s over­seas trip will be his first since he an­nounced that he was with­draw­ing the US from the land­mark Paris cli­mate agree­ment, to the re­gret of a num­ber of world lead­ers who had lob­bied Trump to re­main in the 2015 pact. The White House said Trump and Merkel dis­cussed the cli­mate is­sues in their con­ver­sa­tion Mon­day.— AP

BEDMINSTER: US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump waves as he ar­rives on Air Force One at An­drews Air Force Base, Md en route to Wash­ing­ton. —AP

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