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Trump and Putin begin one-on-one summit in Helsinki

The US and Russian leaders are holding talks amid tensions over alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

US president Donald Trump has said at the start of his summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Helsinki that he thinks “the world wants to see us get along”.

The American president said their two countries have “great opportunities”, given that they have not been getting along over the past few years.

He said he thinks they can have an “extraordinary relationship”.

Mr Trump added their discussions will involve trade, the military, missiles, nuclear weapons and China, including their “mutual friend”, Chinese president Xi Jingping.

He did not mention Russia’s meddling in the US election.

Mr Putin, for his part, said he and Mr Trump have maintained regular contact by phone and meeting at international events, but “the time has come to have a thorough discussion on various international problems and sensitive issues”.

He added, speaking through a translator: “There are quite a few of them for us to pay attention to.”

Mr Putin struck a casual pose during his US counterpart’s remarks, slouching in his chair with his legs wide and eyes low.

He nodded along to some of Mr Trump’s remarks before they were translated, showcasing his fluency in English.

Mr Trump leaned forward in his chair, his hands tented in front of him and frequently glancing over at his Russian counterpart. After the US leader concluded his remarks, American reporters shouted several questions about whether he would bring up election meddling during his discussions with
Mr Putin.

Mr Trump did not respond; Mr Putin appeared to smirk.

The two leaders were seated together in a room adorned by American and Russian flags at the Finnish Presidential Palace, separated by a small table.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have begun their summit (AP)

Following Mr Putin’s delayed arrival in Finland, the meeting started about 45 minutes late.

The summit is being closely watched on both sides of the Atlantic, coming days after the US justice department indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers for their role in hacking Democrats during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr Trump said he hopes for better relations with the Russian leader. He faces bipartisan scepticism in Washington that his desire for warming ties is displacing concerns over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and other destabilising actions.

Earlier, the American president blamed the United States, not Russian election meddling, for the current low point in US-Russia relations.

The meeting will be keenly observed across the globe (AP)

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse,” Mr Trump tweeted on Monday morning, blaming “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

The summit was condemned in advance by members of congress from both parties after the US indictment last week of 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of hacking Democrats in the 2016 election to help Trump’s presidential campaign.

Mr Trump has said he thinks the world ‘wants to see us get along’ (AP)

Mr Trump, who had sought to lower expectations about what will be achieved, told reporters during a breakfast with Finland’s president Sauli Niinisto that he thought the summit would go “fine”.

The meeting comes as questions swirl about whether Mr Trump will sharply and publicly rebuke his Russian counterpart for the election meddling that prompted a special counsel probe which the US leader has repeatedly labelled a “witch hunt”.

In his tweets, Mr Trump continued to undermine the investigation and blamed his predecessor, Barack Obama, for failing to stop Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favour. He claimed Mr Obama “was informed by the FBI about Russian Meddling, he said it couldn’t happen, was no big deal, & did NOTHING about it”.

The Obama administration did, in fact, take action, including confronting Mr Putin in person as well as expelling nearly three dozen Russian diplomats the US said were actually intelligence operatives and imposing new sanctions.

While Mr Trump is eager for a made-for-TV moment that will dominate headlines like his sit-down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month, the Kremlin’s primary mission was simply to have the summit take place.

Mr Putin hopes the meeting, mere hours after he presided over the World Cup final in Moscow, will help him forge good personal ties with Mr Trump and focus on areas where Moscow and Washington may be able to find common ground, such as in Syria.

Vladimir Putin presided over the World Cup final on Sunday (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

The two leaders are meeting first in the Finnish presidential palace’s opulent Gothic Hall, before continuing their discussions with an expanded group of aides and over lunch in the Hall of Mirrors, once the emperor’s throne room. The leaders will conclude by taking questions at a joint news conference.

Ahead of his sit-down with with Mr Putin, who has cracked down on the free press, Mr Trump has continued to unleash a series of attacks on the media, even as Air Force One descended into Helsinki.

“Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!” Mr Trump tweeted.

“Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people and all the Dems know how to do is resist and obstruct!”

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