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Former Presidential Adviser Adelman On What's On The Table In Helsinki


President Trump is meeting with Vladimir Putin today in Helsinki, Finland. This meeting comes at a tricky time. The Justice Department announced on Friday that 12 Russian nationals would be indicted for interfering with the 2016 presidential election. Putin has denied any election meddling. Today, before the two men went into their meeting, they sat for a photo-op, and President Trump talked about what he thinks is at stake here.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I really think the world wants to see us get along. We are the two great nuclear powers. We have 90 percent of the nuclear. And that's not a good thing. It's a bad thing. And I think we hopefully can do something about that because it's not a positive force. It's a negative force.

KING: Kenneth Adelman was the arms control director for President Ronald Reagan. He wrote the book "Reagan In Reykjavik." Welcome to the show, sir.

KENNETH ADELMAN: Thank you, Noel.

KING: All right, so this was an interesting way to start off. President Trump opens by talking about nuclear weapons - says we have 90 percent of the nuclear, and that's not a good thing. You are familiar with these discussions between the U.S. and Russia about nukes. What is on the table in this summit?

ADELMAN: Since the Reykjavik summit in 1986 between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the United States has reduced its nuclear arsenal by 70 percent, which is an amazing decline. And the Russians have reduced their arsenal by 80 percent. What is really at stake in this is to keep those reductions and to keep the number of nuclear weapons low. But also, there are other things at stake as well - as you mentioned, Noel, the indictments. The whole treating of Putin as a equal superpower is ridiculous if you ask me. And the whole way that President Trump is preparing and executing this summit, I think, is pretty infuriating.

KING: Infuriating, why?

ADELMAN: Well, because there is an indictment. There's an indication that the Soviets - the Russians - excuse me - really wanted to diminish Hillary Clinton's campaign and therefore to elevate the chances of Donald Trump being president. Now if that's true, then Putin certainly got his money's worth. I mean, what are Putin's main objectives in the world - number one, to separate the United States from its NATO allies. Well, Trump did that wonderfully all last week.

Number two is to delegitimize the democratic process. That means delegitimize law enforcement, delegitimize the independent judiciary, delegitimize certainly a free press - and Trump does that every single day - and it is to delegitimize truth. You know, truth decay is a big phenomenon both in Russia and now in the White House. And last, he would love an American president who just adores him. Everybody who's a tyrant like Putin loves to be adored.

KING: Mr. Adelman, let me push back on you for a little - just a second.


KING: President Trump, yes, has been criticized for not being harsh enough with Putin and with Russia. But his administration has expelled dozens of Russian diplomats. They've put sanctions on hundreds more.

ADELMAN: Right you are.

KING: They've shut down two Russian consulates. They've approved weapons sales to Ukraine in its fight against Russia. Even if Trump does not speak out strongly against Russia, is there an argument that his actions speak louder than his words?

ADELMAN: No, there really isn't.

KING: Why not?

ADELMAN: Because you do have the United States government doing those things, Noel. And those are very good things. Those are traditional defense of the United States, OK. And that does count. You are absolutely right. The president has what Teddy Roosevelt called the bully pulpit, which is awfully important. It sets the ideas, and ideas have consequences. It sets the whole framework for Americans. And when the framework is one of anti-democracy both in Moscow and in Washington, D.C., that's very damaging.

KING: So in this case, words are as strong as actions. Some Democrats...

ADELMAN: I wouldn't say as strong. But I'm saying they're very important. Ideas have consequences. What an American president says is very important, Noel.

KING: In the last half minute that we have left, some Democrats and even Republican John McCain have expressed concern that this meeting is happening one-on-one between Trump and Putin. Very quickly, what is the worry?

ADELMAN: The worry is that Trump, you know, falls in love with Putin, and that carries over in more years of this adoration. And it's a genuine worry because we saw with the North Korean leader Kim Il Jong (ph)...

KING: Kim Jong Un.

ADELMAN: ...That Trump falls in love with anybody who flatters him.

KING: Kenneth Adelman was the arms control director for President Ronald Reagan, and he wrote the book "Reagan In Reykjavik." Thank you, sir.

ADELMAN: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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