Trump will focus on Russia’s ‘malign’ activity at summits, say US officials

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President Donald Trump will drill down on Russia’s “malign activity” during summits with NATO allies and President Vladimir Putin, US officials said on Thursday, signaling a harder line against Moscow than Trump traditionally has sought to take.

The US president, whose 2016 election campaign is being probed for possible collusion with Russia, has said repeatedly he wants to have a good relationship with Washington’s former Cold War foe, despite tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine, Syria, and alleged election meddling around the world.

Trump, who is set to leave for Europe on Tuesday, will hold meetings with NATO allies in Brussels, visit Britain, and then meet Putin in Helsinki for a one-on-one meeting on July 16.

“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,” Jon Huntsman, US ambassador to Russia, told reporters on a conference call.

“We’re entering with our eyes wide open, but peace is always worth the effort,” Huntsman said.

Trump told reporters last week he would press Putin on election meddling and also discuss Syria and Ukraine during their meeting.

A Senate Intelligence Committee report released on Tuesday supported the conclusion of three US intelligence agencies that Russia tried to help Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential election.

Trump has denied that his campaign colluded with Russia and has repeated that Putin has denied involvement in the US electoral process.

European allies are also concerned about election meddling by Russia. But the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit is likely to be dominated by Trump’s insistence that member nations step up and pay more for their joint defense.

Kay Bailey Hutchison, the permanent representative of the United States to NATO, said Russia would be a key topic at the summit.

“I would say our (NATO’s) major areas of deterrence would be Russia and the malign activities of Russia, the efforts of Russia to divide our democratic nations, INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty violations,” she said.

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