Helsinki, Finland (CNN)US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin blew past the 90 minutes they were scheduled to spend with only interpreters at their sides on Monday, just hours after the US President blamed US policy for the dismal state of relations between the two countries.
“I think we have great opportunities together as two countries that, frankly, we have not been getting along very well for the last number of years,” said Trump, who is hoping his personal touch can reverse the steep decline. “I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship.”
But the highly anticipated meetings that had been minutely planned began with a sluggish start after the Russian President arrived late, setting the summit about 45 minutes back.
Putin is known for arriving late to important events — considered a power play by some observers — but this time his late arrival offered a role reversal for the US President, who has recently walked in late to meetings at the G7 and NATO summits.
The two men walked into the palace’s Gothic Hall together, offering brief remarks and shaking hands for the cameras before the two men were left alone — save for a pair of interpreters — for the first meeting of the day.
Trump and Putin had set aside 90 minutes of solo time — just as Trump did with Kim Jong Un last month. But the two men spilled into overtime, inviting reporters for the start of their expanded bilateral meeting with top aides 2 hours and 11 minutes after their one-on-one meeting began. Trump was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton, White House chief of staff John Kelly, Fiona Hill, the top Russia expert at the National Security Council, and interpreter Marina Gross.
The lengthy tête-à-tête made Trump’s remarks ahead of the meeting all the more notable — and concerning to some.
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted Monday morning ahead of the summit.
Trump was eager to have time alone with Putin to better personally assess him and develop a personal relationship, according to a US official, but he has also expressed anger at leaks from his meetings with foreign leaders and told aides he wanted to ensure his sensitive discussions with Putin remained secret.
The official also said that Trump doesn’t want aides — who may take a harder line on Russia — undercutting or interrupting him during his talks with Putin.
Just days earlier, Trump pointed to the “pure stupidity” and a “political problem” in the United States for making it “very hard to do something with Russia.”
“Anything you do, it’s always going to be, ‘Oh, Russia, he loves Russia,’ ” Trump said during a joint news conference with his British counterpart.
Ahead of his meeting with Putin — who is alleged to be behind the assassination of journalists and political dissidents — the US President also lashed out again at the news media on Sunday by branding journalists “the enemy of the people.”
Trump again — as he has repeatedly done — pointed the finger at his predecessor President Barack Obama and characterized the investigation stemming from Russian election interference as a “witch hunt.”
“President Obama thought that Crooked Hillary was going to win the election, so when he was informed by the FBI about Russian Meddling, he said it couldn’t happen, was no big deal, & did NOTHING about it,” Trump tweeted. “When I won it became a big deal and the Rigged Witch Hunt headed by Strzok!”
Trump is not, however, expected to offer to halt military exercises in the Baltics as part of his discussions with Putin, with a US official telling CNN’s Jeff Zeleny “at least that’s the plan going in.”
The question of the Baltics exercises has hung over the summit, particularly after Trump abruptly decided last month to agree to stop joint US-South Korean military exercises during his meeting with Kim.
Trump has said he intends to once again ask Putin about Russian efforts to sway the results of the 2016 election, but has signaled he will not press the issue.
“I know you’ll ask, will we be talking about meddling. I will absolutely bring that up. I don’t think you’ll have any, ‘Gee, I did it. I did it. You got me.’ There won’t be a Perry Mason here, I don’t think, but you never know what happens, right? But I will absolutely, firmly ask the question,” Trump said.
Trump has sought to cool expectations in the last days leading up to the summit, saying in an interview Saturday that he planned to arrive in Helsinki “with very low expectations.”
“I think that getting along with Russia is a good thing, but it’s possible we won’t,” Trump said.
Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/