Photographs by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump started a weeklong trip to Europe by meeting with allies.
He ended it Monday by meeting with a longtime US adversary.
Trump traveled to Helsinki, Finland, for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and afterward Trump said he believed it had significantly improved relations between the two countries.
"Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that," Trump said during a joint news conference held at the end of the summit.
Earlier in his trip, Trump attended a NATO summit in Belgium before flying to Britain to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May and have tea with Queen Elizabeth II.
Trump’s meeting with Putin came just three days after indictments, handed down by special counsel Robert Mueller, charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking into Democrats’ computer networks and emails during the 2016 presidential race.
Putin said Trump brought up the issue on Monday, but Putin insisted that Russia “has never interfered" with American affairs.
Trump declined to endorse the US intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in the election, saying Putin was "extremely strong and powerful" in his denial. Trump said the two leaders also talked about issues such as North Korea, nuclear proliferation and radical Islamic terrorism.
"We should have, frankly, had this dialogue a long time ago,” he said. “I think that we're all to blame. I think that the United States has now stepped forward along with Russia.”
Trump spent the weekend at his Turnberry resort in Scotland, where he played golf and prepped for his Monday summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
There were no public events scheduled.
Trump and his wife, Melania, ended their stay in England by having tea with Queen Elizabeth II. Their meeting at Windsor Castle lasted a little less than an hour.
Earlier Friday, Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May held talks at Chequers, May’s country residence. They complimented each other in front of the media and talked up the close relationship between their two countries.
When Trump was asked whether he regretted his recent interview in which he knocked May's "soft Brexit" compromise and boosted a rival within her own party, Trump shook his head and rolled his eyes. He later dismissed the interview as "fake news," saying it didn't include his comments praising May.
A day after tweeting “what good is NATO,” Trump praised the alliance during an unscheduled news conference held at the end of a two-day summit in Brussels, Belgium.
"I believe in NATO, I think NATO is a very important — probably the greatest ever done," he said.
Trump declared that all NATO members had agreed to increase their defense spending after he told them he was “extremely unhappy.” French President Emmanuel Macron later rejected that assertion, saying the NATO summit communique merely reaffirmed a commitment to the alliance’s target for defense spending (2% of each country’s gross domestic product).
Trump flew into England later in the day and attended a black-tie dinner hosted by British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump resumed his criticism of allies he said are “not paying what they should” with regards to defense spending. Last month, Trump sent letters to NATO member countries and threatened to shift the US military presence in Europe if they don’t live up to the alliance’s target for defense spending.
During the breakfast meeting, Trump and Stoltenberg went back and forth over the importance of preserving the alliance. Trump singled out Germany in his remarks, telling Stoltenberg that “Germany is a captive of Russia” because it buys natural gas from Russia. Trump complained that the United States is expected to defend Germany despite "billions of dollars" in energy payments to Moscow.
Later in the day, Trump met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and touted the two countries’ “tremendous relationship.” He told the media that he and Merkel discussed his earlier comments, but he didn’t expand further.
Merkel didn’t address Trump's comments, simply saying she was "very pleased" to have an opportunity to discuss big issues like economic development, migration and trade with Trump.
Trump, accompanied by his staff and the first lady, traveled from Washington to Brussels on Tuesday.
It is the President’s seventh foreign trip since he took office.