Twenty-four hours from now, President Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a first-ever sit down. If this morning’s press conference in Poland was any indication, we now have some idea of how the one-on-one meeting will go.
Speaking about the Russian president at the press event, Trump was hardly confrontational. In fact, he sounded at points as though he were reading off what could have been Putin’s talking points while taking a swing at US intelligence agencies.
Asked — yes or no — whether he believed Russia meddled in the US presidential election last year, Trump said he believed it might have, along with other countries. But, he added, “Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”
If that language sounds familiar, it’s because it echoes the Kremlin’s position that there are essentially no knowable facts; thus people can believe what they want.
Trump then went on to blame the US intelligence community. One reason he said he questioned the conclusions from federal agencies on Russia’s involvement was because they were wrong on whether Iraq illegally possessed weapons of mass destruction prior to the last Iraq war in 2003.
“I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction. How everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Trump said. “Guess what? That led to one big mess. They were wrong, and it led to a mess.”
Slamming our own intelligence agencies in the same speech where he went easy on Russia gives a hint of the strategy we may be able to expect from him at tomorrow’s meeting with Putin.
Perhaps the oddest part: The press conference sharply contrasted the prepared remarks he then delivered in a speech later in the day. In those remarks, he stood up for the principals of NATO and warned Russia to stop creating unrest in the world.
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes including Syria and Iran, and to join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself,” Trump said.
Putin could be forgiven for wondering which Trump will show up at the G-20 meeting tomorrow: the guy at the press conference or the guy from the speech. If it’s the former, the Russian president can feel confident that tough topics like election meddling won’t even come up.
This approach may be decidedly different when Trump huddles with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the same summit this weekend. That meeting is widely expected to be tense, with Trump possibly threatening a trade war if China doesn’t do more to stop the North Korean nuclear program.
The fact that Trump’s toughest G-20 meeting could be with China instead of Russia will probably be just fine with Putin.James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics:http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp