President Donald Trump departed for Brussels to begin his European trip with stops in Belgium, England, Scotland, and Finland, where he is to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin after NATO talks.
The president spoke to reporters before leaving the White House early Tuesday morning.
"I have NATO, I have the UK, which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin," Trump said, as quoted by Fox News. "Frankly, Putin might be the easiest of them all. Who would think? Who would think?"
The upcoming NATO summit in Brussels has shaped up to be a contentious encounter over the prospect of a trade war after Trump imposed tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports.
Trump's insistence that NATO countries boost their defense spending to the alliance's threshold of 2 percent of GDP by 2024 is to also sow discord. NATO estimates that given current trends, only 15 members will be able to reach this benchmark. As of June, six allies have fulfilled this goal, ABC News reported: the U.S., the U.K., Greece, Estonia, Romania, and Poland.
On Tuesday morning, the president tweeted, "The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect [NATO countries]. Not fair to the U.S. taxpayer."On the social media platform, he also blasted the European Union for raising trade barriers against the U.S., which has lost $151 billion in trade with the bloc.
In a foreign policy analysis, Politico's David M. Herszenhorn noted that positions crucial to the transatlantic partnership remain vacant a year and a half into Trump's term. He wrote, "One senior American diplomat in Brussels said European officials, desperate for lines of communication — and thrown off balance by the churn in the White House — had pleaded for more visits by members of Congress, especially Republicans."
Trump's overtures toward Russia and China as partners to get along has prompted unease in the EU. Early Tuesday, European Council President Donald Tusk also took to Twitter to say that "the U.S. doesn't have and won't have a better ally than the EU."After Brussels, Trump stops in Britain, where Prime Minister Theresa May grapples to keep her cabinet in line amid Brexit negotiations. Three recent high-profile departures – Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis, and junior Brexit minister Steve Baker – have prompted a tumultuous political climate in the U.K.
When asked whether he believes May would be able to cling to power, Trump said, "That's up to the people – not up to me."
After a jaunt to Scotland over the weekend, Trump is to travel to Helsinki, Finland, for his meeting with Putin, the first since the G-20 summit in July 2017. Russia's purported meddling in the 2016 election is likely to be high on the agenda as Mueller's probe continues in the U.S.
Addressing critics during a rally in Montana last week, Trump said of Putin, "They're going 'Will President Trump be prepared, you know, President Putin is KGB and this and that.' You know what? Putin's fine. He's fine. We're all fine. We're people. Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I've been preparing for this stuff my whole life."