Trump to open trip by meeting with nervous NATO leaders

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"I like Boris Johnson, I've always liked him".

"We're supposed to be guarding against Russia and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia", Trump said in the presence of reporters at a pre-summit meeting at the residence of the USA ambassador to Belgium.

He leaves Brussels for two days in London Thursday, followed by a weekend in Scotland and his summit with Putin in Helsinki next Monday.

Trump has shown little regard for America's traditional bonds with the Old World, publicly upbraiding world leaders at NATO's new headquarters a year ago for not spending enough on defense and delivering searing indictments of Western trading partners last month at an worldwide summit in Canada.

But unlike his recent tweets in which he berated allies, Trump struck a more affable tone in person before boarding his flight, remarking that "we will work it out and all countries will be happy".

That would represent a massive upheaval of budgetary priorities in Europe where Germany and many others have pledged only to reach 2 percent by 2024 or later, and it was not clear what allies would spend the money on.

But after 48 hours of overt conflict with allies - and the second global summit in two months where he has sparred openly with European leaders - he said he looked forward to a positive encounter with the Russian president.

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On Tuesday, before leaving for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels, Mr Trump suggested that he might take time during his United Kingdom visit to speak with former foreign secretary Mr Johnson, who he described as "a friend of mine".

For older Russians, the summit venue - Helsinki - reinforces Putin's narrative by evoking memories of Cold War show-downs between the Soviet Union and the United States at a time when Moscow was the capital of a real superpower. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating potential co-ordination between Russian Federation and Trump's Republican presidential campaign.

Mr Tusk also made the point that the U.S. did not and would not have a better ally than the EU, reminding the president that it was European troops who had fought and died in Afghanistan after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.

"I'm going to tell NATO, 'You got to start paying your bills, '" Trump said at a rally last week in Montana.

"The United States was not being treated fairly, but now we are", Trump said.

Expectations are high in Russian Federation that Putin, with more than 18 years of global experience, will have the edge on Trump, who had not held elected office before he was inaugurated last year.

Trump's aides seated around the table, including chief of staff John Kelly and the USA ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, looked visibly uncomfortable at points.

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"It's one of the signs that the wind is blowing in our sails, thanks in large part to Trump", he said.

"They will spend more", he later predicted. The Frenchman is one of Trump's closest friends on the world stage despite their many areas of disagreement, including Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accord, and to impose tariffs on France and other European countries.

In advance of this year's trip, European Council President Donald Tusk offered a pointed warning for both Trump and his European counterparts.

Separately, the USA envoy said she's concerned that Russian Federation is trying to "flip" Turkey and other American allies to its column.

But Trump upped the ante in a closed-door meeting with allies Wednesday, demanding they double that amount to 4 percent of gross domestic product.

Kremlin critics at home and overseas see Trump's decision to grant Putin a summit against that backdrop as conferring global legitimacy and status on Putin, something they say he doesn't deserve given the lack of meaningful change in Russia's policies internationally.

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