Angus King says Trump is giving Putin what he wants

Nato forces including US troops take part in Sabre Strike exercise in Poland in June

Nato forces including US troops take part in Sabre Strike exercise in Poland in June

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation leaders were still gathering for a summit in Brussels when President Trump publicly dressed down the alliance's secretary general in front of reporters.

The criticism was an unusual one coming from Trump, who has appeared eager to cozy up to Putin and who has dismissed the US intelligence community's assessment that Russian Federation tried to undermine Western democracy by meddling in the 2016 USA presidential election to help Trump win. He tweeted Tuesday morning: "Getting ready to leave for Europe". So, in a stroke, he shifted attention away from his own ties to the Kremlin just days before he meets one-on-one with Putin.

The G-7 world leaders' meeting in Canada last month ended in tumult when Trump suddenly retracted his endorsement of the group's final joint statement after his departure and railed against Trudeau by midflight tweet en route to Singapore for his summit with Kim, a meeting that critics said legitimized Kim on the world stage without securing a clear pathway to the denuclearization.

President Donald Trump attends a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (not pictured) ahead of the NATO summit.

He has repeatedly delivered broadsides against the other member nations, suggesting they don't pay enough. The United States, which spent $685.9 billion on defense in 2017, now makes up 51.1 percent of NATO's combined GDP.

Germany's defense minister last week said it was "immature" for the Trump administration to link trade deficits and defense spending. But just days out from a high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, the mercurial USA leader threatened to throw the transatlantic alliance into disarray. "They're going to up it at levels that they never thought of before", Trump said, adding that "now we're very happy".

Trump said: "We're protecting Germany, we're protecting France, we're protecting all of these countries".

Carefully-choreographed sessions and the leaders' dinner in a Brussels museum on Wednesday night are unlikely to mollify Trump, NATO diplomats say, as they found out to their dismay in May previous year at a special dinner to welcome the president.

Asked to characterize his relationship with the Russian president, Trump referred to Putin as a "competitor", not an enemy, adversary or friend, and tried to wave off expectations that the "loose meeting" with the Russian president would result in a substantive policy outcome.

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Though NATO has much to be triumphalist about as it stages its first biennial summit at its new billion dollar headquarters in Brussels, many leaders appear anxious as they face the alliance's de-facto leader, Donald Trump, who brings with him tough talk on defence spending.

On CNN's "New Day", host John Berman asked if King, an independent senator from ME, believes Trump is playing into Putin's hands by distancing the U.S. from its allies.

He adds: "I think that getting along with Russian Federation, getting along with China, getting along with others is a good thing, not a bad thing".

"Frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back, where they're delinquent, as far as I'm concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them", Trump said Wednesday.

Trump's weeklong trip to Europe will continue with a stop in Scotland before ending with a sit-down in Helsinki with Putin.

And even though Trump downplayed his upcoming meeting, he compared it to his recent meeting with the leader of North Korea: "I think meeting with people is great. The US is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them". "Will they reimburse the USA?"

Trump has called on allies to send reinforcements to Afghanistan to help deal with the security situation the country, where a NATO-led mission is assisting the Western-backed government in Kabul.

Trump predicted as he departed Washington that the "easiest" leg of the journey would be the sit-down with Putin - a comment that did little to reassure allies fretting over his potential embrace of a Russian leader they regard as troublesome. Most NATO members are spending less than 2 percent, though more are moving in that direction.

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