TURNBERRY, Scotland -- Two days before a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump played golf at one of his namesake resorts, where he blamed his predecessor for allowing Russian election meddling.
"I have arrived in Scotland and will be at Trump Turnberry for two days of meetings, calls and hopefully, some golf - my primary form of exercise!" he tweeted early Saturday, referring to his seaside golf resort. "The weather is beautiful, and this place is incredible!"
In Saturday's tweets, Trump criticized President Barack Obama for failing to stop the Russians from working to help Trump win the 2016 election.
"The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration," Trump tweeted Saturday, asking why they didn't "do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?"
It was Trump's first response to indictments announced Friday in Washington against 12 Russian military intelligence officers who are accused of hacking into the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic rival, and the Democratic Party, and releasing tens of thousands of emails.
Trump denies that he or any campaign aides were involved with the Russian campaign and has repeatedly dismissed the ongoing investigation that produced Friday's indictments as a "witch hunt."
Trump did not criticize the actions of the Russian spies nor Putin, whom he will see on Monday in Helsinki. Analysts noted that it is unusual for a U.S. president to criticize a former president while on foreign soil.
Democratic senators asked Trump in a letter Saturday to scrap the summit if he was not prepared "to make Russia's attack on our election the top issue you will discuss." And John McCain, a leading Republican senator and Trump critic, said Trump must hold Putin accountable or not proceed with the meeting.
But Trump's chief diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, told journalists traveling with him that he was confident the meeting would "put America in a better place."
After Trump's tweets, he was seen playing the Turnberry links and driving a golf cart. Several holes of Turnberry are visible from a nearby beach, where dozens of people staged a protest picnic Saturday. A line of police, some on horseback, stood between the course and protesters. Snipers perched atop a nearby tower overlooked the vast property.
Retired schoolteacher Helen Broussard, 70, was at the perimeter of the golf links, holding up a placard that translated into: "Your jacket is on a wobbly peg," meaning roughly that the president is on his way out.
The protesters were among the thousands who marched in Scotland and England in opposition to the U.S. president's visit to both countries.
Some 10,000 people marched Saturday through the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, while police searched for a paraglider who breached a no-fly zone and flew a protest banner over the resort in western Scotland where Trump and his wife, Melania, are staying through today.
The glider carried a banner that said "Trump: Well Below Par" over the resort Friday night.
In Russia, Putin held meetings ahead of the summit, hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The frequent visitor to Moscow said he wanted to talk to the Russian leader "without intermediaries."
Hours later, Putin sat down with Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran's supreme leader. The main subject of the meetings was Syria, also a top item on Trump's agenda. Iran has partnered with Russia to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power and decimate his U.S.-backed opposition.
For many of America's allies in the region, who say they have little understanding of Trump's long-term strategy in Syria, there is growing anxiety about what Trump is prepared to offer Putin in exchange for help in attaining what he says is his primary goal of expelling Iran.
Among the possibilities raised by senior officials in a number of regional governments, some of which also concern administration officials, are that Trump will agree to a partial or complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria -- as both Syria and Russia have demanded -- or even to recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea and drop U.S. sanctions.
Israel, like the United States, continues to demand Iran's complete withdrawal from Syria, but its immediate concern is keeping the Iranians at least 50 miles or more away from its border. Israeli media reported that Netanyahu has made a deal with Russia, both to keep Iran and its militias away from the border area and to continue turning a blind eye to Israeli airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a strong proponent of keeping U.S. troops in Syria and a skeptic of Russia, tweeted a warning to Netanyahu: "To our friends in Israel, be very careful making agreements with Russia re: Syria that affect U.S. interests. I don't trust Russia to police Iran or anyone else in Syria."
Analysts expect nuclear arms to be another topic in the summit. U.S.-Russian strategic nuclear weapons -- those capable of striking each other's territory -- are governed by New Start, which was negotiated by the Obama administration in 2010. It limits each country to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads. Obama favored further cuts, but U.S.-Russian relations soured after Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The New Start deal is set to expire in February 2021 unless both sides agree to extend it. The Trump administration has been reviewing its position, so it's unclear whether Trump and Putin will do more than agree that their staffs should study the possibility of an extension. Private U.S. arms control advocates are urging an extension, in part because they see value in a treaty provision allowing each side to monitor what the other is doing on strategic weapons.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, says Trump and Putin could instruct their aides to begin formal work on a five-year extension of the treaty, which would not require a renegotiation of its terms or ratification by the legislative branch of either government.
"If they don't extend New Start, there is a worrisome possibility that by 2021 there will be no legally binding limits on the world's two largest arsenals, and as a result, all of the difficult security challenges we have with the Russians will become even more difficult to manage," Kimball said.
VISITING HIS ROOTS
Trump's golf course visit seemed part relaxation, part plug for a property struggling to turn a profit, and part chance to celebrate his Scottish ties.
Trump's mother, Mary McLeod, was born in Stornoway, a place Trump has described as "serious Scotland." He says his mother adored the queen and the pomp and circumstance of events like royal weddings.
"Any time the queen was on television, my mother wanted to watch it," he told The Sun newspaper in an interview last week.
Aides on Saturday said they expected Trump to see the burial grounds of his ancestors during his visit.
"President Trump knows this country probably better than any president in recent history," Trump's ambassador to the U.K., Robert "Woody" Johnson, told reporters before Trump left the White House last week for the trip through Belgium, England, Scotland and Finland.
But Scotland hasn't always welcomed the real estate and casino mogul turned president.
Ever since Trump ventured into Scotland a dozen years ago, he has been losing money and battling with longtime residents, wind farms and politicians as he's worked to renovate the Turnberry resort on the west coast and expand Trump International Golf Links Scotland in Aberdeen.
David Milne, whose property overlooks Trump International Links, planned to mark the president's visit the same way he did Trump's last visit in 2016: flying the Mexican national flag over his house within sight of the clubhouse to protest Trump's hard-line immigration views.
"He is the president of a country that is allies with us and we have to give a certain amount of respect to the office of the president, even if we think the incumbent is a complete idiot," Milne said.
Chris O'Donnell, a manager at the Athletic Tavern pub in nearby Girvan, said it was hard to judge the overall mood in the area. He noted that Trump provides jobs at his resort, and the once-shabby Turnberry hotel has been renovated to the highest of standards. Still, he said, Scots generally don't like the man or his politics.
"A lot of people are anti-Trump in some ways, and others are pro-Trump in some ways, it's quite hard to judge it," he said. "The people who are anti-Trump make lots of noise."
Information for this article was contributed by Jill Colvin, Renata Brito, Paul Kelbie, Robert Burns, Susannah George and Jonathan Lemire of The Associated Press; and by Josh Dawsey, William Booth, Karen DeYoung, Joby Warrick, Missy Ryan and Karla Adam of The Washington Post.
A Section on 07/15/2018
Print Headline: Trump places Russia meddling on Obama