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Putin talks will be easiest of my meetings, says Trump as he begins Europe trip

The US president said he ‘can’t say right now’ if Mr Putin is a friend or foe, but called him a ‘competitor’.

US President Donald Trump has begun a week-long trip to Europe with harsh criticism for Nato allies and predicted the “easiest” leg of his journey would be his scheduled sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As he departed the White House for a four-nation European tour, Mr Trump did little to reassure allies fretting over the risk of damage he could do to the 69-year-old trans-Atlantic mutual defence pact and his potential embrace of Mr Putin during a summit in Helsinki.

Mr Trump said he “can’t say right now” if Mr Putin is a friend or foe, but called him a “competitor”.

The US intelligence community has concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to boost Mr Trump’s candidacy, and warns of further attempts at interference both in the 2018 midterms and in European elections.

Mr Trump arrived in Brussels on the eve of the Nato summit after repeated attacks on the pact.

He told reporters in Washington before leaving that “frankly it helps them a lot more than it helps us” and then later tweeted from Air Force One that he may demand reimbursements from the European member nations.

Mr Trump has been pressing Nato countries to fulfil their goal of spending 2% of their gross domestic products on defence by 2024.

During his presidential campaign, he suggested he might only come to the defence of Nato nations that fulfilled their obligation.

And a year ago, during his first visit to its Belgium headquarters, Mr Trump initially declined to explicitly support the organisation’s defence agreement.

Mr Trump, who landed in Belgium during the middle of the football-mad nation’s World Cup semi-final match, will later head to London, where Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is in turmoil over her plans for exiting the European Union.

European Council President Donald Tusk said on Tuesday in a message to Mr Trump that “it is always worth knowing who is your strategic friend and who is your strategic problem”.

Mr Tusk recalled that the Europeans are spending more than Russia and as much as China on defence.

Nato estimates that 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.

“Getting ready to leave for Europe. First meeting – NATO. The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them,” Mr Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.

He added: “Not fair to the U.S. taxpayer. On top of that we lose $151 Billion on Trade with the European Union. Charge us big Tariffs (& Barriers)!”

On Monday he had tweeted the situation was “not fair, nor is it acceptable”, and insisted that Nato benefits Europe “far more than it does the US”.

He added: “NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!”

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