UK PM May doing ‘fantastic’ job on Brexit, says Trump, promising trade deal

British Prime Minster Theresa May and her husband Philip stand together with U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump at the entrance to Blenheim Palace, where they are attending a dinner with specially invited guests and business leaders, near Oxford, Britain, July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Jeff Mason and William James

CHEQUERS, England (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he looked forward to finalizing a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, marking an abrupt change from a newspaper interview when he said Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy would kill such an agreement.

In an interview published just hours before the two leaders held talks, Trump chided the “very unfortunate” results of the prime minister’s proposals for Brexit and her negotiating tactics as Britain prepares to leaves the European Union in March next year.

However, Trump later said May was doing a “fantastic job”.

“Once the Brexit process is concluded and perhaps the UK has left the EU, I don’t know what they’re going to do but whatever you do is OK with me, that’s your decision,” Trump told a press conference with May in the garden of her official country residence Chequers.

“Whatever you do is OK with us, just make sure we can trade together, that’s all that matters. This is an incredible opportunity for our two countries and we will seize it fully.”

Last week at the same location, May finally won agreement for her Brexit plans from her cabinet but within days two senior ministers had quit, departures which Trump said earlier in the week had left Britain in turmoil.

Hours after those proposals were formally published, Trump cast further doubt on the strategy, delivering a withering verdict in an interview with the Sun newspaper.

“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump said. “I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”

Asked about that interview, Trump said he did not criticize the prime minister and was gushing in his praise of his host, saying she was tough and capable.

“This incredible woman right here is doing a fantastic job, a great job,” he said. “Unfortunately, there was a story that was done which was generally fine but it didn’t put in what I said about the prime minister and I said a tremendous thing. It’s called fake news.”

“HIGHEST LEVEL OF SPECIAL”

May, likewise, glossed over the comments.

“We agreed today that as the UK leaves the European Union we will pursue an ambitious U.S.-UK free trade agreement,” she said. “The Chequers agreement reached last week provides the platform for Donald and me to pursue an ambitious deal that works for both countries right across our economies.”

May and Trump both spoke of the importance of the “special relationship” between their two countries, something that Brexit supporters hope will reap benefits when Britain leaves the EU, allowing it to forge closer trade ties with the world’s biggest economy.

“I would say I would give our relationship in terms of grade the highest level of special,” Trump said.

However, many have cast May’s “business-friendly” plan as a betrayal that would leave Britain too close to the EU, including lawmakers in her deeply divided Conservative Party who have warned that she might face a leadership challenge.

During the press conference, May also thanked Trump for his support over Russia which Britain has blamed for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in southwest England in March.

Trump is due to meet Putin, who has rejected the nerve agent claims, at a summit when he finishes his four-day visit to Britain, and said he would raise the issue of reducing nuclear weapons.

“It will certainly be something that we bring up and talk about,” the U.S. president said.

As Trump and May spoke, thousands of protesters marched against the president through central London, one of more than 100 demonstrations planned against the president during his stay.

While Trump’s trip was not a full state visit, he has been given red carpet treatment and is scheduled to have tea later with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, where her grandson Prince Harry married U.S. actress Meghan Markle in May.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden, editing by Larry King, Kevin Liffey and David Stamp)

Trump to talk to Russia’s Putin about substantially reducing nuclear weapons

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a joint news conference at Chequers, the official country residence of the Prime Minister, near Aylesbury, Britain, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

CHEQUERS, England (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said he would discuss substantial reductions to nuclear weapons when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

“The proliferation is a tremendous, I mean to me, it’s the biggest problem in the world, nuclear weapons, biggest problem in the world,” Trump said alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May at her Chequers country residence.

“If we can do something to substantially reduce them, I mean, ideally get rid of them, maybe that’s a dream, but certainly it’s a subject that I’ll be bringing up with him,” Trump said of his upcoming meeting with Putin.

Trump added: “It’s also a very expensive thing but that’s the least important.”

The United States and Russia are by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers.

Trump cautioned that it was hard to do substantive deals with Russia because his opponents would say that he was too pro-Russian.

“We have this stupidity going on, pure stupidity, but it makes it very hard to do something with Russia because, anything you do, it’s like: ‘Russia, oh he loves Russia’,” Trump said. “I love the United States but I love getting along with Russia and China and other countries.”

Though Trump has not so far given specific details about what nuclear arms control treaties they would like to talk about, he and Putin are likely to discuss the possibility of extending the “New Start” treaty – a pillar of arms control.

They are also likely to discuss what to do about another pact known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) to try to dampen a high-risk nuclear rivalry between the two former Cold War foes.

Ahead of the summit, Russian diplomats have stressed the need for strategic stability talks, saying existing arms control treaties are fraying at the edges and they fear Washington will withdraw from the INF treaty. Both sides accuse one another of violating the treaty.

New Start, signed in 2010, requires both nations to cut their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550, the lowest level in decades.

The treaty, which also limits deployed land- and submarine-based missiles and nuclear-capable bombers, expires in February 2021, but can be extended by five years if both sides agree.

A U.S. official said Trump would be ready to talk about New Start if Putin raised it, but it was not a big U.S. priority.

The INF Treaty, signed in 1987, required both sides to eliminate their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km (310 and 3,420 miles).

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, additional reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Peter Graff)

Trump claims NATO victory after ‘go it alone’ ultimatum

U.S. President Donald Trump looks on as he holds a news conference after participating in the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

By Jeff Mason and Sabine Siebold

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Donald Trump claimed a personal victory at a NATO summit on Thursday after telling European allies to increase spending or lose Washington’s support, an ultimatum that forced leaders to huddle in a crisis session with the U.S. president.

Trump emerged declaring continued commitment to a Western alliance built on U.S. military might that has stood up to Moscow since World War Two.

People present said he had earlier warned he would “go it alone” if allies, notably Germany, did not make vast increases in their defense budgets for next year.

“I let them know that I was extremely unhappy,” he said, but added that the talks ended on the best of terms: “It all came together at the end. It was a little tough for a little while.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called the summit “very intense”, and other leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, played down the extent to which they had pledged to accelerate spending plans as fast as Trump wanted.

“He said they must raise spending by January 2019 or the United States would go it alone,” one person said of the clash at NATO headquarters when Trump spoke in a debate that was meant to move to other matters after rows over spending on Wednesday.

Macron and others said they did not interpret Trump’s words as a direct threat to quit the alliance Washington founded in 1949 to contain Soviet expansion. Trump, asked if he thought he could withdraw from NATO without backing from Congress, said he believed he could but it was “unnecessary”.

Others say Congressional approval would be required — and would be unlikely to be forthcoming.

Trump hailed a personal victory for his own strategy in complaining loudly that NATO budgets were unfair to U.S. taxpayers, and the emergence of what he said was a warm consensus around him.

Several diplomats and officials said, however, that his undiplomatic intervention — including pointing at other leaders and addressing Merkel as “you, Angela” — had irritated many.

As the drama unfolded, a day after Trump launched a virulent public attack on German policy, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg cleared the room of many officials and the invited leaders of non-members Georgia and Afghanistan so that the other 28 leaders could hold a closed session with the president.

SPENDING TARGETS

NATO members have committed to spending at least two percent of their national income on defense by 2024, though the terms allow for stretching that in some cases to 2030. The United States, far the biggest economy, spent 3.6 percent last year, while Germany, the second biggest, paid out just 1.2 percent and only a handful of countries met the 2 percent target.

Trump told leaders he wanted them all to hit that target by January, prompting consternation. Many have already settled their 2019 budgets and the sums involved are immense — even if they wanted to, many would struggle to make useful purchases.

Merkel told reporters there followed a discussion with assurances to Trump that spending was increasing — something he later acknowledged was happening at an unprecedented rate.

“The American president demanded what has been discussed for months, that there is a change in the burden sharing,” Merkel said. “I made clear that we are on this path. And that this is in our own interests and that it will make us stronger.”

Asked when exactly the allies would now reach their two percent of GDP target, Trump said it would over the coming years. Macron said France, which last year spent 1.8 percent on defense, would meet the target by the 2024 deadline.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who like the summit host, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, was singled out in the room by Trump for spending less that 1 percent of GDP on defense, said Madrid would also meet the target by 2024.

“We have a very powerful, very strong NATO, much stronger than it was two days ago,” Trump said. “Secretary Stoltenberg gives us total credit, meaning me, I guess, in this case, total credit. Because I said it was unfair.”

(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott, Alissa de Carbonnel and Humeyra Pamuk in Brussels, John Walcott in Washington, Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Jon Boyle)

For Putin, Helsinki talks with Trump a win before he even sits down

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo/File Photo

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – For U.S. President Donald Trump, a summit with Vladimir Putin risks a political backlash at home and abroad. For the Russian president, however, the fact the summit is even happening is already a big geopolitical win.

Despite Russia’s semi-pariah status among some Americans and U.S. allies, the Kremlin has long been trying to arrange a summit, betting that Putin and Trump will get on well and stop a sharp downwards spiral in bilateral ties.

While nobody on either side expects big breakthroughs, including on U.S. sanctions, the summit is seen by Moscow as U.S. recognition of Russia’s status as a great power and an overdue U.S. realization that its interests must be taken into account.

“The fact that a Putin-Trump meeting will happen says only one thing: that for all its hysteria, the United States is not able to isolate or ignore Russia,” said Alexei Pushkov, a prominent Russian senator from the ruling United Russia party.

“It took a long time for Washington to get that idea, but it got there in the end.”

Western grievances over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its backing of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and its support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad haven’t gone away.

Other accusations, denied by Moscow, include that it meddled in U.S. and European politics, supplied the weapon that shot down a passenger plane in 2014 over Ukraine and tried to kill a former Russian spy in Britain with a nerve agent.

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

But in Russia, where the political system is obsessed with hierarchy, status and displays of raw power, Putin has “already got his victory,” said Andrey Kortunov, head of RIAC, a foreign policy think-tank close to the Foreign Ministry.

“It allows him to make his point that Russia is not isolated, that Russia is a great power, and to some extent can even claim an equal status with the United States, at least in the security field,” said Kortunov.

Expectations are high in Russia 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. The two men have met twice before at other events and spoken by phone at least eight times.

Vitaly Tretyakov, a political author, described Trump on state TV on the day the summit was agreed as “a neophyte in world politics” to whom Putin could explain Russian thinking and why Russia was right to annex Crimea.

Sergei Mironov, a senior lawmaker from the pro-Kremlin Just Russia party, said in another political talk show that Putin would definitely have the upper hand in Helsinki.

“… Vladimir Putin will give a real master class to the inexperienced politician Donald Trump,” he said.

START OF A THAW?

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.

While ties with China, India and the European Union may be even more important in economic terms, Russian politicians still measure their own country’s soft and hard power globally against that of the United States.

Nobody in Russia expects the summit to resolve the differences that have led to painful U.S. sanctions. A survey by state pollster VTsIOM published on Monday showed that more than half of 1,600 Russian adults polled predicted the summit would yield no tangible results.

But for Russian politicians who erupted in applause on learning that Trump won the U.S. election in hopes of rapprochement only to see ties worsen, Helsinki offers a precious opportunity for a possible thaw in relations.

Hard-liners saw a rare visit to Moscow this month of a delegation of Republican lawmakers as proof the tide is turning.

“Six months ago we suggested to them (the lawmakers) that we communicate by Skype. For them, it was political suicide, but now it’s not,” pro-Putin lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov, the grandson of Stalin’s foreign minister, told state TV this month.

Nikonov said Trump was now strong enough to pursue his own agenda.

“It’s one of the signs that the wind is blowing in our sails, thanks in large part to Trump,” he said. “I don’t remember any pro-Russian (U.S.) presidents, but I want to remind you that he (Trump) is one of the most pro-Russian politicians at the moment in the United States.”

Kremlin-backed media have stressed the importance of the summit taking place on neutral territory to ensure Trump is not seen as having the upper hand.

Dmitry Kiselyov, presenter of Russia’s main weekly TV news show “Vesti Nedeli,” said Moscow had seen how Trump had received other leaders on home soil, showing footage of Trump holding Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hand in a vice-like grip, brushing dandruff off French President Emmanuel Macron’s shoulder and glowering next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“On neutral territory everyone will be calmer,” Kiselyov, who is close to the Kremlin, said in a report on the subject.

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Trump high court pick Kavanaugh may face contentious cases soon

With the U.S. Supreme Court building in the background, Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh arrives prior to meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee may not have to wait too long for controversial cases if he is confirmed to the job, with disputes involving abortion, immigration, gay rights, voting rights and transgender troops possibly heading toward the justices soon.

Republicans are hoping Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative U.S. appeals court judge selected on Monday by Trump to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, will be confirmed by the Senate before the next Supreme Court term opens in October.

There are no blockbusters among the 38 cases already on the docket for the justices, but they could add disputes on controversial issues being appealed from lower courts.

Legal battles are developing over state laws restricting abortion including one in Arkansas that effectively bans medication-induced abortions. The justices in May opted not to intervene in a case challenging that law, waiting instead for lower courts to rule, but it could return to them in the future.

Other abortion-related cases could reach the court within two years.

These involve laws banning abortions at early stages of pregnancies, including Iowa’s prohibition after a fetal heartbeat is detected. There is litigation arising from plans by certain states including Louisiana and Kansas to stop reimbursements under the Medicaid insurance program for the poor for Planned Parenthood, a national abortion provider.

There also are challenges to state laws imposing difficult-to-meet regulations on abortion providers such as having formal ties, called admitting privileges, at a local hospital.

Kavanaugh’s judicial record on abortion is thin, although last year he was on a panel of judges that issued an order preventing a 17-year-old illegal immigrant detained in Texas by U.S. authorities from immediately obtaining an abortion.

GAY RIGHTS

Another issue expected to return to the court is whether certain types of businesses can refuse service to gay couples because of religious objections to same-sex marriage.

The high court in June sided, on narrow legal grounds, with a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for two men because of his Christian beliefs, but sidestepped the larger question of whether to allow broad religious-based exemptions to anti-discrimination laws.

That issue could be back before the justices as soon as the court’s next term in a case involving a Washington state Christian florist who similarly spurned a gay couple.

Kennedy, who wrote the baker ruling, cast decisive votes backing gay rights four times, most notably in 2015 when the court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. It is not known how Kavanaugh would vote on those issues as he has not been involved in any gay rights cases during his 12 years as a judge.

Trump’s bid to ban transgender people from the military has been challenged in lower courts. That issue could make its way to the Supreme Court.

After lower courts blocked Trump’s ban last year, he announced in March he would endorse Defense Secretary James Mattis’ plan to restrict the military service of transgender people who have a condition called gender dysphoria. Trump’s administration has asked courts to allow that policy to go into effect, but so far to no avail.

Sharon McGowan, a lawyer with gay rights group Lambda Legal, said she saw no evidence Kavanaugh would be any less conservative on gay and transgender rights than Trump’s other appointee to the court, Neil Gorsuch.

On immigration, litigation is continuing over Trump’s plan to rescind a program created under Democratic former President Barack Obama that protected from deportation hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

Lower courts blocked Trump’s plan to scrap the program. Congress has failed to agree on a plan to replace it.

Kavanaugh could have to deal with cases involving a practice called partisan gerrymandering in which state legislators redraw electoral maps to try to cement their own party in power. In June, the justices avoided a broad ruling on whether partisan gerrymandering violates the constitutional rights of voters and whether federal judges can intervene to rectify it.

Democrats have said Republican gerrymandering has helped Trump’s party keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives and various state legislatures.

Kennedy previously kept his conservative colleagues from closing the door to litigation in federal court challenging partisan gerrymandering.

The partisan gerrymandering case most likely to return to the Supreme Court involves claims that Republican legislators in North Carolina manipulated the boundaries of the state’s 13 U.S. House districts to ensure lopsided wins for the party.

Attorney Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center, which represents the North Carolina plaintiffs, said they had been focused on trying to convince Kennedy to rule in their favor, and now will try to convince Chief Justice John Roberts, seen as the next-most-moderate of the conservative justices. Smith viewed Kavanaugh as likely voting with the court’s most conservative justices to reject gerrymandering challenges.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Oregon ranchers who sparked standoff to return home after Trump pardon

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. flag covers a sign at the entrance of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, U.S. January 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

(Reuters) – Two Oregon ranchers whose sentencing on arson convictions sparked the 2016 armed occupation of a wildlife refuge were due to return home on Wednesday, after being pardoned by U.S. President Donald Trump, the family said in a statement.

The 41-day standoff, which occurred in response to the jailing of the ranchers for setting a fire that spread to public land, marked a flare-up in the long-simmering dispute over federal land policies in the U.S. West. It turned deadly when police shot one of the occupiers.

The family of jailed rancher Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son, Steven, 49, in a statement late Tuesday thanked Trump.

“Our family is grateful to the president and all who worked to make this possible,” the statement read. “We will continue on our path, continue ranching and continue believing in America.”

The pair were expected to arrive at Burns Municipal Airport in southeastern Oregon, about 120 miles (190 km) east of Bend, after on Wednesday morning, the family statement said.

The ranchers were convicted in 2012 for setting a fire that spread onto public land, after years of disputes with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The Hammonds said they were using standard brush-control techniques, but federal prosecutors said that in at least one instance they were trying to hide evidence of the slaughtering of a herd of deer.

They were initially sentenced to less than the legal minimum five years in prison by a judge who said the minimum was too harsh. Following an appeal by prosecutors, a different judge ordered the men back to prison to serve the full five years, sparking protests and the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The White House on Tuesday called that decision “unjust.” It noted that Dwight Hammond had served about three years in prison and Steven had served four.

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, in a statement expressed dismay at the pardon, calling the Hammonds “lawless extremists.”

The leaders of the Malheur standoff, including activists Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were cleared of federal charges for their role in the protest.

The pardons are the latest in a series that have raised questions about whether Trump is using the power to reward supporters. Others have included conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, for campaign finance crimes, and former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who campaigned for Trump before being convicted in a case regarding racial profiling.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

South Korea scraps annual government war drill as talks with North go on

FILE PHOTO - South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Tuesday it has decided to scrap an annual government mobilization drill this year as part of a suspended joint exercise with the United States but will carry out its own drills to maintain readiness. The ministers of safety and defense made the announcement at a media briefing on Tuesday. The drill, called the Ulchi exercises, usually takes place every August in tandem with the joint Freedom Guardian military drill with the United States.

Seoul and Washington said in June they would halt the joint exercise after U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to end war games following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12.

Seoul’s presidential office has said the suspension of the combined exercise could facilitate ongoing nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States.

South Korea would develop a new drill model by incorporating Ulchi and the existing Taeguk command post exercises, which would be aimed at fighting militancy and large-scale natural disasters, the ministers said.

That incorporated exercise would be launched in October when the Hoguk field training drill takes place, the ministers said.

“Our military will carry out planned standalone drills this year and decide on joint exercises through close consultations with the United States,” Defence Minister Song Young-moo said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Christine Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)

Americans in UK warned to keep ‘low profile’ during Trump visit

Temporary signs indicate road closures around the U.S. ambassador's residence, where special fences have been erected prior to the U.S. presidential visit at the end of the week, in Regent's Park in London, Britain, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – The U.S. Embassy in London issued an alert on Tuesday to Americans in the British capital, warning them to keep a low profile during President Donald Trump’s visit later this week in case protests against him turn violent.

Trump arrives in Britain on Thursday after a NATO summit and thousands of protesters are expected to join demonstrations during his visit, including plans to fly a blimp over parliament portraying Trump as an orange, snarling baby.

While Britain regards the United States as its closest ally, some Britons see Trump as crude, volatile and opposed to their values on a range of issues. His comments on militant attacks in Britain and his re-tweeting of anti-Muslim videos posted by a leader of a far-right UK party sparked anger.

More than 50,000 people have signed up to demonstrate in London on Friday against his visit although a counter-gathering to welcome him is also planned.

“Numerous demonstrations are being planned for July 12 to 14, 2018, surrounding the visit of the President of the United States to the United Kingdom,” the U.S. embassy said in the alert on its website.

“Several of the events are expected to attract large crowds and there will be road closures in connection with those events.”

Its advice to U.S. citizens was to “keep a low profile” and “exercise caution if unexpectedly in the vicinity of large gatherings that may become violent”.

Trump arrives in Britain on Thursday after the NATO summit in Belgium and will stay overnight at the central London residence of the U.S. ambassador where a high metal security fence was erected outside.

He will hold talks with Prime Minister Theresa May at her 16th-century manor house, meet Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle and attend a black-tie dinner at the home of former World War Two leader Winston Churchill – all outside London.

The U.S. president is also due to travel to Scotland where he owns two golf courses and Scotland’s interim police chief has said more than 5,000 officers would be needed for to cover the trip, including specialist riot and armed officers.

Ahead of his visit, Trump said Britain was currently “in somewhat turmoil” as Prime Minister May grappled with a political crisis after two top ministers quit over her plans for trade ties with the European Union after Britain leaves the bloc next March.

“I have NATO, I have the UK, which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have (Vladimir Putin),” Trump said as he set off on his trip to Europe which includes a meeting with the Russian President in the Finnish capital Helsinki.

“Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?”

Relations between Britain and Russia are at a post-Cold War low since May blamed the Kremlin for the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal with a Soviet-era military nerve agent in March.

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

The issues on the table when Trump and Putin meet

FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to U.S. President Donald Trump during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria//File Photo

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will sit down in a room together in the Finnish capital on July 16 for their first summit meeting.

The U.S. president’s spontaneous approach to negotiations, and the inscrutable style of the Kremlin leader, make predicting the outcome of the summit with any accuracy close to impossible.

We do however, have a reasonable idea of the issues the two leaders and their aides will have mapped out before the meeting: the areas where they each want something from their counterpart, and the places they are willing to give ground.

Below are the issues likely to figure:

ARMS RACE RHETORIC

Both Trump and Putin have been using bellicose rhetoric about their nuclear arsenals, drawing their countries closer to a new arms race. Trump has said the U.S. nuclear capability needs renewing. He told Reuters last year, “if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.” Putin in March this year unveiled an array of new nuclear weapons, and warned Western governments “now they need to take account of a new reality.” An arms race would be dangerous and expensive for both sides. An agreement to scale back the rhetoric would be a win for both Putin and Trump. Progress towards extending the New Start arms treaty, which expires in 2021, would give substance to that agreement.

SANCTIONS RELIEF

Putin would like Trump to soften sanctions that Washington imposed over the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and backing for separatists in eastern Ukraine, involvement in the Syrian civil war and allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. elections in 2016. While a 2017 law bars Trump from easing many sanctions without Congress’ approval, he can offer some relief without a nod from Congress. The Republican president, who did not want to sign the law and has missed several deadlines for imposing sanctions included in it, could send a signal that the administration does not plan to expand the list of Russian firms and individuals subject to economic and travel restrictions. That would unfreeze much-needed investment and lending from international investors who, at the moment, are reluctant to commit to Russia for fear of the sanctions’ impact.

SYRIAN DEAL

Washington ally Israel is anxious that, with the conflict in Syria entering its end game, Iranian and Iran-backed forces will be left gathered around Israel’s borders. At the summit, Trump may ask Putin, the most powerful outside player in Syria since Russia’s military intervention there, to use his influence with Tehran to curb Iran’s military presence. This would be tough to deliver for Putin: it would risk a rupture with his allies in Tehran, and could leave Russian forces having to do the lion’s share of the remaining fighting in Syria, a burden that Moscow does not want to shoulder.

DIPLOMATIC TIT-FOR-TAT

Russia’s diplomatic presence in the United States, and the U.S. missions in Russia, are depleted after two rounds of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions in the past two years. The first was over alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election, and the second, this year, was in response to the poisoning in England of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Putin and Trump could agree in Helsinki to restore the full complement of diplomatic staff. That would not change the substance of the U.S.-Russia relationship, but it would be a symbol of a new start.

RUSSIA’S BACKYARD

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the NATO alliance has stepped up military exercises in eastern Europe. The aim, according to NATO leaders, is to reassure alliance members who fear a Russian incursion. That has angered Russia. It says NATO is bearing down on its backyard. The Kremlin has likened it to Russia stationing missiles in Mexico. If Trump scaled back the exercises, that would be a big win for Putin. Two senior NATO diplomats told Reuters they are prepared for a worst-case scenario that Trump would announce a freeze on U.S. military exercises or withdraw troops from the Baltics in a gesture to Putin. At the NATO summit in Brussels that precedes Helsinki, NATO states will seek Trump’s assurances that he will stand firm on the exercises.

UKRAINIAN ALLY

Washington has stood by Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders in their stand-off with Russia. That has included the United States providing Kiev with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military aid. Helsinki would be a triumph for Putin if he persuaded Trump to drop that military aid. Ukrainian officials say they have assurances from Trump aides he won’t do this, but acknowledge anything can happen when Trump and Putin are in a room together. In return, the Russian leader could make concessions over eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists control swathes of territory. Diplomats say there is a deal to be done allowing armed international peacekeepers to patrol the area. However, Putin will not contemplate any concessions over Crimea.

(Writing by Christian Lowe and Mary Milliken; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Top Supreme Court candidates’ views on abortion under scrutiny

FILE PHOTO: Trees cast shadows outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan/File Photo

By Andrew Chung

NEW YORK (Reuters) – From the moment Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court last week, speculation has centered on whether his replacement would vote to overturn a woman’s right to abortion.

But the individuals considered top contenders for Kennedy’s seat have produced a sparse record of legal rulings and writings on the subject, which makes it hard to predict how they might rule in abortion-related cases.

President Donald Trump promised during his campaign to appoint “pro-life justices” who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. In recent days, however, the president has said he will not ask candidates about their views on the subject. Trump has said he will announce his nominee on July 9 and that he will make his selection from a list of candidates compiled by conservative legal activists.

On Friday, the president said he had narrowed the field to about five, and sources familiar with the president’s thinking say the top contenders are Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals; Amy Coney Barrett, who was named by Trump to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Thomas Hardiman, who serves on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Raymond Kethledge of the Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Amul Thapar, whom Trump named to the 6th Circuit.

Of that group, Barrett, a professor at Notre Dame Law School before Trump appointed her to the appeals court, has attracted the most attention on abortion.

She has spoken publicly about her conviction that life begins at conception, and in a 2003 law journal article, she argued that courts could be more flexible in overturning prior “errors” in precedent. She noted that courts have struggled over when to keep “an erroneous decision” on the books, citing as an example Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a major 1992 Supreme Court ruling that upheld Roe.

Some progressive groups have pointed to the article as evidence of Barrett’s willingness to overturn Roe. But she has also raised doubts about whether the high court would ever overturn Roe, according to a 2013 article in Notre Dame Magazine.

Her traditional Catholic beliefs became a flashpoint last September during her confirmation hearing in the Senate. “The dogma lives loudly within you,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said to Barrett during the hearing. Barrett told the senators that her faith would not affect her decisions as a judge.

While little is known about Kavanaugh’s personal views on abortion, last October he was part of a panel of judges that issued an unsigned order preventing an illegal immigrant teenager detained by the government from immediately obtaining an abortion. That decision was overturned by the full appeals court a few days later.

Dissenting from that decision, Kavanaugh warned that the court was embracing “a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand.” Litigation over the issue is continuing.

Hardiman joined an opinion in 2010 that overturned the conviction of an anti-abortion protester arrested outside the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia. Though the court said park rangers had violated his free speech rights, the case was not about the right to abortion itself.

In April, Hardiman allowed the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns, to intervene in a lawsuit against Trump’s plan to expand employer exemptions from an Obamacare birth control insurance requirement. For years, the organization has been at the forefront in challenging the mandate’s legality. Though the case was not directly about abortion, groups favoring abortion rights worry that Hardiman’s ruling signals his sympathies on the issue.

Democratic politicians and liberal groups have said they assume that all those on Trump’s list of potential candidates would overturn Roe v. Wade, given that Trump has said he will only consider such candidates.

“I take the president at his word,” said Daniel Goldberg, legal director for Alliance For Justice, a liberal legal advocacy group that has researched Trump’s judicial nominees.

Leonard Leo, a conservative legal activist on leave from the Federalist Society, is advising Trump on judicial selections, and he said no one asked the candidates about their views on abortion before they were placed on the list.

“These people weren’t even talked to when they were put on the list,” said Leo. “No one was asked these questions and as far as I know no one has been asked these questions if they were brought into the process in the White House.”

Republicans control the Senate by only a slim majority, making it important for Trump’s nominee to win the support of all Republican members, including moderates.

On Sunday, Republican Senator Susan Collins said on CNN that she would not support a nominee who “demonstrated hostility” to Roe.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Sue Horton)