US President Donald J. Trump on July 16 appeared to believe Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials over the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections, saying he saw “no reason why” Moscow would have acted in that way.

Speaking at a joint press conference following his first summit with Putin in Helsinki, Trump said: “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today” on meddling.

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What we learned from President Trump’s performance at the NATO Summit this week, the first scenes of a European three act play ending in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin on Monday, was that the American leader will go to great lengths to control the narrative.

Right down to last-minute plot shifts.

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Just in the past few months, US President Donald J. Trump has blown up the G7 summit in Canada, berated the United States’ NATO allies, criticized British Prime Minister Theresa May on her handling of Brexit, described Germany as a “captive” of Russia, characterized the European Union as a “foe,” and directed the Pentagon to review the cost of withdrawing US troops from Europe.

In sharp contrast to remarks directed at US friends and allies, Trump has been reluctant to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin whom he has described as “fine.” Acting against the advice of his advisers, Trump went so far as to congratulate the Russian president on his victory in an election widely viewed as unfair. He even suggested that Russia be invited back to a G8—a grouping Russia was expelled from after it annexed Crimea in 2014. On July 16, Trump will meet Putin in Helsinki for the leaders’ first summit. The rest of the world will be watching anxiously.

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President Trump travels to Helsinki with impressive Syria-related leverage. If he chooses to use it in his meeting with his Russian counterpart, he can increase the chances for real Russian cooperation in ending the Syrian crisis on mutually acceptable terms. If he gives it up, his pockets will be emptied to the delight of Iran, the Assad regime, and the Kremlin. The negative national security consequences of a diplomatic debacle in Finland for Americans, Europeans, and Syria’s neighbors would be serious and long-lasting.

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Donald J. Trump and Theresa May attempted to paper over their differences—at least in public—at a joint press conference on July 13. This interaction followed a controversial interview Trump gave to the British tabloid The Sun in which  the US president criticized the British prime minister’s approach to Brexit.

Here’s a look at where the two leaders came out on some key issues as they fielded questions from journalists at the prime minister’s country residence, Chequers.

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A day after a dramatic back and forth with NATO allies over defense spending in Brussels, US President Donald J. Trump’s visit to the United Kingdom has once again provided wild swings from apparent discord between the president and his allies, to firm commitments of unity and claims of success.

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Last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, after meeting US President Donald J. Trump at the NATO Summit in Brussels, “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over…We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.” That she said it on Memorial Day weekend—the day the United States honors veterans of World War II—seemed an especially sharp rebuke.

Worse than the rebuke was this: Merkel might not be wrong.

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The second day of NATO Engages in Brussels focused on NATO’s relations with its immediate neighbors and the role the Alliance plays in providing security and building peace around the world.

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After a NATO summit marked by harsh criticism from Donald J. Trump of allies over defense spending, NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller congratulated the US president for his leadership, which she said “has already shown results.”

Gottemoeller, speaking at the final session of the NATO Engages event in Brussels co-hosted by the Atlantic Council, said that Trump’s sharp attacks led to “a very deep and intense discussion around the table about how the Alliance needs to intensify its efforts to fulfill its commitment to defense spending.”

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Unlike in the past, there is now a “real” and “constructive” dialogue on bringing peace to Afghanistan and this effort is based in mutual trust, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in Brussels on July 12.

Ghani, speaking at the NATO Engages event co-hosted by the Atlantic Council, said US President Donald J. Trump told world leaders at the NATO Summit this week that the US strategy of a “conditions-based” commitment to Afghanistan was producing results.

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