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‘It’s Not a Question of Friend or Enemy.’ Trump Calls Putin a ‘Competitor’ During Surprise NATO Press Conference

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Speaking during an unscheduled press conference in Brussels on Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin is not an “enemy” but rather a “competitor.”

Trump, who was in Belgium for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, cast his much-discussed relationship with Putin in a competitive light after a reporter asked Trump why he thinks the two leaders will get along ahead of their meeting in Finland next week.

“He’s a competitor. He’s been very nice to me the times I’ve met him; I’ve been nice to him,” Trump said, echoing comments he made earlier in the week. “Somebody was saying, ‘Is he an enemy?’ He’s not my enemy. Is he a friend? No, I don’t know him well enough. But the couple of times that I’ve gotten to meet him, we got along very well … but ultimately, he’s a competitor. He’s representing Russia. I’m representing the United States. It’s not a question of friend or enemy.”

Trump added, however, that a friendship between the two leaders could be possible were they to spend more time together. Trump — who has repeatedly denied allegations of collusion with Russia — has said on multiple occasions that he and Putin do not know each other well.

“Hopefully, someday, maybe, he’ll be a friend; it could happen,” Trump said. “But I just don’t know him very well.”

Trump also reaffirmed the U.S.’ commitment to NATO and praised the treaty’s strength at Thursday’s press conference, despite a series of tense interactions earlier in the week.

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Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com