On the eve of his first face-to-face talks in office with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump declined to hold the Kremlin solely responsible for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, saying others may have interfered as well.
At a news conference Thursday with his Polish counterpart in Warsaw, Trump also said he was considering some unspecified “pretty severe things” in response to North Korea’s firing of a ballistic missile capable of hitting parts of the United States. “Something will have to be done about it,” he told reporters.
Later, in a speech delivered in an iconic Warsaw square, Trump cast Islamic extremism as a modern-day successor to historic horrors like Nazism and Communist oppression.
“We must stand united against these shared enemies,” he said, his address repeatedly interrupted by raucous cheers and chants. “Our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.”
Portraying the struggle against terrorism as the West’s primary mission, the president cited “dire threats to our security and our way of life” that must be countered by “bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”
Speaking against the backdrop of a memorial to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis, Trump praised Polish perseverance and sacrifice, asking: “Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”
To NATO allies, Trump offered an explicit commitment to the alliance’s founding principle of common defense, which he had failed to state unambiguously at a May meeting in Brussels. But he also again tweaked allies who he said were not contributing enough financially, taking credit for “billions and billions” coming into NATO as a result of his importuning members to pay more.
Trump’s characterization of Russian election interference was considerably more tepid than U.S. intelligence assessments that the Kremlin directed a concerted campaign of cyber meddling meant to help him beat his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. In his comments, he repeated an assertion that “nobody really knows” who bore the ultimate responsibility.
“I think it was Russia, and it could have been other people in other countries,” he said. “I think a lot of people interfere.”
Even while leaving conditional the degree of interference by Moscow — “if Russia did it,” as he put it — Trump also renewed an attack against his predecessor, President Obama, saying he had failed to act on intelligence pointing to Russian interference that surfaced months before the election.
“That’s a lot of time, he did nothing about it,” said Trump, who was to meet Putin on Friday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 gathering in the German city of Hamburg.
On North Korea, the president declined to provide specifics about potential options under consideration to rein in the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un.
“I don’t like to talk about what we have planned,” he said, adding: “They are behaving in a very, very dangerous manner.”
Trump was welcomed warmly by Polish President Andrzej Duda, a right-wing populist who has cracked down on immigration, the judiciary and freedom of the press.
The two leaders met privately at the national Royal Castle in Warsaw before giving public remarks and taking questions from the media.
“Mr. Trump is thinking very seriously about Poland’s security,” Duda told reporters, adding that he was convinced by his meeting with Trump that the U.S. is “our loyal ally.”
In advance of the American president’s speech in front of a memorial to Polish resistance to Nazi occupation, supporters of the ruling Law and Justice party lined the street outside a small but landmark square, holding banners and Polish and American flags.
A few people wore the bright red baseball hats from Trump's campaign with the words "Make America Great Again" written in white across the top. As a few lawmakers from opposition parties walked through security, chants in the crowd went up, calling them "thief" and "traitor" in Polish.
Trump’s visit to Poland marks a brief stop in an environment friendlier than the one that likely awaits him in Germany. Several European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have been sharply critical of Trump’s protectionist policies on trade and his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord.
Trump’s visit to Europe comes as he faces urgent foreign policy tests on multiple fronts. In addition to North Korea’s missile adding urgency to Trump’s calls for China to do more to pressure Kim to end his nuclear program, the fight against Islamic State in Syria has reached a critical point.
After the Warsaw stop, Trump will fly to Hamburg for a sit-down with Merkel on Thursday evening and a joint meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Like Trump, Duda was swept into power with a nationalist-populist message. He promised to protect Polish interests from international agreements and has set tight limits on immigration despite pressure from western European leaders to accept more refugees from war-torn countries like Syria.
Since being elected in 2015, Duda has launched a public campaign against the press and tried to undermine Polish media outlets. In the past year, Duda’s administration and his allies that control the legislature have restricted government access to reporters, a clampdown on press freedom that sparked large protests in Warsaw in December.