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Estonian President Says She Is More Confident About Trump Administration's Foreign Policy


Estonia's president says she leaves Washington feeling more confident about the Trump administration's foreign policy and its approach to Russia. She was 1 of 3 Baltic leaders to meet President Trump yesterday. She offered her thoughts about that summit with a group of journalists this morning. NPR's Michele Kelemen was there.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Kersti Kaljulaid is careful not to say too much about what she thinks of President Trump. On trade, she says she reminded him that Estonia is a small country that relies on open markets and on NATO, she says the Baltic states have met the goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense.

PRESIDENT KERSTI KALJULAID: He's worried about and he's impatient about rest of Europe getting their defense expenditure up to the 2 percent level.

KELEMEN: That was one example of what she calls the harsh questions raised by Trump, though she didn't seem to mind the tone.

KALJULAID: I would say the questions President Trump asks are quite difficult to answer, but they're not unfair. They were challenging but not unfair. So it was interesting debate.

KELEMEN: Asked why she comes away feeling confident about America's commitment to the region, President Kaljulaid says U.S. policy remains strong and Vice President Pence has been reassuring to the Baltics. She was also at a speech last night where the outgoing national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, blasted Russia and accused President Vladimir Putin's government of trying to undermine open societies.


H R MCMASTER: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have all been targeted by Russia's so-called hybrid warfare, a pernicious form of aggression that combines political, economic, informational and cyber assaults against sovereign nations.

KELEMEN: Though President Trump rarely criticizes Russia himself, he did move together with Europe to expel Russian officials in the wake of a nerve agent attack in the U.K. and President Kaljulaid sounds pleased with that.

KALJULAID: The United States expelled a high number of diplomats, and he mentioned this yesterday several times as him being tough with Russia and being tough with Putin.

KELEMEN: The State Department says Russia may request to fill those 60 positions again and the U.S. will decide on a case-by-case basis. The White House is also dangling out the possibility of a Putin-Trump summit. The Estonian president wouldn't weigh in on that, but she says she now trusts the judgment of the United States. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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