said he expected a friendly exchange with Russian President
at their summit Monday, as he concluded testy NATO talks that left some U.S. allies concerned the alliance was projecting a message of discord to Moscow.
“Maybe we will get along with Russia,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference Thursday, shortly before departing Brussels for the U.K. “I think we probably will be able to.”
He said the meeting with the Russian leader would be the “easiest” part of his trip to Europe, which in addition to meetings with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies will include a meeting with Queen Elizabeth and a visit to a Trump-branded golf course in Scotland.
At the news conference in Brussels, the U.S. president described Mr. Putin as a competitor, but not an enemy.
“Is he a friend? No, I don’t know him well enough,” he said. “But the couple times I’ve gotten to meet him, we’ve gotten along very well.”
Mr. Trump’s comments on his summit with Mr. Putin in Helsinki came after he joined other NATO leaders in signing a declaration focusing largely on the alliance’s role as a defense against Russia’s “aggressive actions,” and also criticized Germany for its natural-gas imports from Russia.
But the president also warned Thursday that he would “do my own thing” if allies didn’t commit to immediately meeting the military-spending goal for 2024 of 2% of gross domestic product, prompting the NATO secretary-general to call an emergency session to discuss burden-sharing.
In Washington, Mr. Trump’s comments about the Russian president were quickly rebuked by lawmakers in both parties. “Putin is not America’s friend, nor merely a competitor. Putin is America’s enemy—not because we wish it so, but because he has chosen to be,”
Sen. John McCain
(R., Ariz.) said in a statement. “It is up to President Trump to hold Putin accountable for his actions during the meeting in Helsinki.”
In their joint declaration Wednesday, NATO leaders said that they “remain open to a periodic, focused and meaningful dialogue” with Russia, but that there could be “no return to ‘business as usual’ until there is a clear, constructive change in Russia’s actions.”
Asked Thursday whether he perceived Mr. Putin as a security threat, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t want him to be, and I guess that’s why we have NATO” and a large U.S. military budget. He said NATO allies didn’t express any concern about the planned meeting.
“They actually thanked me for meeting with President Putin,” he said. “We’ll see where it leads. It could lead to something very productive.”
At Wednesday evening’s dinner with NATO leaders, allies told Mr. Trump that talks with Mr. Putin could be useful, but urged the president to stress the importance of an international rules-based order, a diplomat with knowledge of the talks said. Mr. Trump offered no detail on his plans and expectations for the Putin meeting.
Canadian Prime Minister
whose government has been among the most outspoken critics about Russian interference in Ukraine, said Thursday that he was reassured after hearing from Mr. Trump about plans for his summit with Mr. Putin.
“What was very clear from the conversations in the room in just about every single session is that NATO is strong and united on the question of Russia and Russian interference,” said Mr. Trudeau, who at last month’s G-7 meeting rejected Mr. Trump’s suggestion that Russia be allowed back into the group.
He said he was confident the Trump-Putin summit would be constructive.
Mr. Trump said Thursday that he and Mr. Putin would discuss Syria, where the U.S. president is seeking Moscow’s help in scaling back Iran’s military presence, as well as Ukraine. He said he was “not happy” with Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, but faulted former President
saying, “He did allow it to happen.”
“What will happen from Crimea from this point on? That I can’t tell you,” Mr. Trump said. The president’s previous suggestions that he was sympathetic to the Russian position on Crimea have prompted concerns that his administration will drop the U.S.’s longstanding opposition to the annexation.
Mr. Trump said he would raise Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election with Mr. Putin, but suggested he didn’t plan to press the Russian leader hard on the subject.
“He may deny it. It’s one of those things,” Mr. Trump said. “All I can say is, ‘Did you,’ and ‘Don’t do it again.’ All I can do is say it.”
The degree to which Mr. Trump presses the Russian leader over Moscow’s actions is expected to come under intense scrutiny. The president has expressed skepticism about U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump associates colluded with Moscow’s election-meddling efforts, which Mr. Trump has denied.
Mr. Trump said he also planned to discuss arms-control issues, including Russia’s alleged violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, an agreement Washington and Moscow signed in 1987 to eliminate certain land-based nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers. The U.S. for years has alleged that Moscow possesses banned missile technology; Russia, in turn, has accused the U.S. of violating the pact.
He also said they might discuss NATO exercises in the Baltic states.
His desired outcome for the summit? “No more nuclear weapons anywhere in the world,” Mr. Trump quipped.
Moments later, he departed the summit for his next stop: London.
—Paul Vieira contributed to this article.
Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com