Trump's Russia tweet provokes fears over US ties with Nato
Donald Trump yesterday cast aside intelligence agencies' verdict that Russia meddled in the US presidential election - as he announced his first summit with Vladimir Putin.
In one of a series of tweets yesterday, the US president wrote: "Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election."
His apparent acceptance of Russian assurances flies in the face of the judgment of US and other Western intelligence services that Russia did interfere in the election.
Mr Trump also returned to a familiar theme of questioning why law enforcement agencies weren't investigating other perceived influences on the election, which he has repeatedly claimed was rigged for his opponent Hillary Clinton.
His latest comments have fuelled fears that his meeting with the Russian president in Helsinki could further drive a wedge between the US and its European Union allies.
The summit, on July 16, comes at the end of a visit to Europe that will see Mr Trump visit Brussels for a Nato meeting, London for talks with Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth and possibly Scotland for a few rounds of golf.
Mrs May is among European leaders clamouring for a tough line on Russia in the wake of the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury earlier this year.
Mr Trump, eager to improve relations with Mr Putin, despite the federal investigation into his campaign's links to Moscow, has been critical of Nato.
He is reported to have told fellow world leaders at a meeting this month that "Nato is as bad as Nafta", adding: "It's much too costly for the US."
Nafta, or the North American Free Trade Agreement, is a pact between America, Mexico and Canada that Mr Trump has threatened to tear up unless it is renegotiated.
There are fears the president could call for the halting of Nato exercises in Eastern Europe, something that would be a boost for Mr Putin.
Mr Trump made a similar move after meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un when he cancelled American-South Korea "war games".
There are also concerns that Mr Trump could refuse to sign a joint communique at the end of the Nato gathering - something he did at the G7 meeting of world leaders this month - and attack allies for not spending more on defence.
The White House and the Kremlin announced the Trump-Putin summit in joint statements yesterday.
Helsinki held a number of historic Cold War talks in the past.
The pair have yet to hold a formal summit since Mr Trump took office last January, but have met a number of times and talked more than half a dozen times on the phone.
An investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into election meddling continues to hang over Mr Trump. The president yesterday claimed in one of his tweets that Mr Mueller had "conflicts of interest".
Mr Trump is reportedly prepared to push for Russia's help in solving the long-standing Syria crisis, in what would be a remarkable change in policy from his predecessor Barack Obama.
The 72-year-old hopes Mr Putin will agree to drive Iran out of southern Syria in return for keeping president Bashar al-Assad in power, according to a CNN report.
The US president is expected to be in Britain from the evening of July 12 to July 15.
Mr Putin will have time to attend the World Cup final in Moscow on July 15 before his meeting with Mr Trump.
Mr Trump said earlier this week: "I think they're doing a fantastic job with the World Cup right now.
"It's in Russia, and I will tell you that it's exciting.
"My son loves soccer, and he loves watching the World Cup. And they have really done a fantastic job with the World Cup.
"It's exciting even if you're a non-soccer fan.
"I'm a soccer fan a little bit, but I don't have much time."