As he departed the White House Tuesday en route to Europe for a summit with fellow NATO leaders, a meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and, later, Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump said that his meeting with Putin “may be the easiest of them all.”
Trump made the comment while addressing reporters before he and First Lady Melania Trump boarded presidential helicopter Marine One. “So I have NATO, I have the U.K. which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all,” said Trump. “Who would think? But the U.K. certainly has a lot of things going on.”
Asked whether he thought Putin was a friend or foe, Trump said he couldn’t say, adding that he sees the Russian leader as a “competitor.”
Russia has been accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and several high-level investigations are examining the possibility of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
Trump’s comments about the U.K. refer to recent chaos in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, which has been thrown into turmoil by a series of high-profile resignations by Brexit-supporting ministers. The most high-profile departure so far was that of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who quit the government Monday while criticizing May’s plan for a “soft” Brexit that would retain a close relationship with the E.U., saying the proposal would reduce Britain to the “status of a colony.”
Johnson has recently praised Trump, something the President appears to have noticed. “Boris Johnson’s a friend of mine. He’s been very, very nice to me. Very supportive,” Trump said. Trump also added that he had a “very good relationship” with May, though he was less positive about the E.U., repeating his criticism of the bloc’s trade policies and NATO spending.
Trump tweeted strong criticisms of other NATO allies just before setting off for the summit as well, saying that the U.S. was spending “many times more” than other nations for their protection, finishing with an explicit call for U.S. allies to pay more and the United States less.
European Council President Donald Tusk addressed Trump’s criticism, telling the U.S. President to “appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have that many,” at an E.U.-NATO meeting ahead of the summit, according to Reuters. He also responded to Trump’s tweets with a tweet of his own emphasizing the strength of the U.S.-Europe relationship: