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Spotlight on Trump, Putin

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Meeting between leaders under close scrutiny

Nele Maack and Rolf Schade present their print design in their shop, close to Hamburg Messe, to protest against the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Picture: Reuters

PRESIDENT Donald Trump will learn this week whether he gets a second chance to make a first impression as he returns to Europe and has his first encounter with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s first visit to the continent in May stirred anxieties among his European allies when he declined to endorse Nato’s common defence treaty explicitly and scolded world leaders for not spending more on their armed forces.

This time, Trump will use stops in Poland and Germany to try to pull off the tricky balancing act of improving ties with Moscow at a time of particularly fraught relations, while also presenting the US as a check against Russian aggression.

Trump leaves Washington for Europe tomorrow.

He will meet Putin on the sidelines of an international summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany. Every aspect of the meeting between the two unpredictable leaders is sure to be closely scrutinised as investigations press on into alleged Moscow meddling in last year’s election and potential Trump campaign collusion.

There is little expectation the meeting will produce significant progress on difficult issues such as the crisis in Ukraine or the conflict in Syria.

The Trump-Putin encounter will be one of at least nine meetings the US president will have with foreign leaders while in Hamburg for a Group of20summit of developed and developing nations, beginning on Friday.

But first Trump will stop in Poland, where leaders are looking for reassurance that the presence of US and Nato troops there will continue as long as the region’s security is threatened by a resurgent Russia.

In return, Trump will expect a warm reception as he pays homage to Polish resolve with a speech on Thursday in Krasinski Square, his first major outdoor address in a foreign country.

Poland’s leaders are closely aligned with Trump’s world view, and ruling party lawmakers and pro-government activists plan to bus in groups to help ensure an enthusiastic crowd for him after his rather awkward European debut in May.

Preparing for the trip, Trump spoke yesterday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. Earlier, he had conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

After this trip, the president will visit France to celebrate Bastille Day alongside new French President Emmanuel Macron.

Poland has been a staunch US ally in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is home to about 5000 US troops serving in separate American and Nato missions.

US-Russian relations remain tense and Moscow has denounced the recent decision by the US to impose sanctions on more than three dozen Russian people and firms over Russian activities in Ukraine. But Trump has expressed hopes of improved relations with the global power.

Trump has had three phone calls with Putin since taking office. In the past, he has offered contradictory descriptions of his connections with Putin, insisting during the campaign he had no recollection of meeting him but earlier stating that they spoke around the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

Trump’s overseas trip will be his first since he announced that he was withdrawing the US from the landmark Paris climate agreement.

The White House said Trump and Merkel discussed the climate issues in their conversation yesterday.

Merkel, host of the G20 summit, has been open about her disappointment in Trump’s decision. – ANA-AP