Niinistö meets Trump at White House

The joint news conference is Trump's first since Democrats ramped up an impeachment investigation.

President Sauli Niinistö lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery on 1 October 2019. Image: Matti Porre/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö again meets his US counterpart Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday.

Ahead of the meeting and joint press conference, press attention focused more on Ukraine than Finland.

Before meeting Niinistö, Trump had not taken part in a press conference for more than a week, during which time Democrats in the House of Representatives have ramped up impeachment proceedings focusing on interactions between Trump and his associates and Ukrainian officials including President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Finnish and US presidents have both met recently with Zelensky.

On the sidelines of the UN Climate Action Summit in New York last week, Niinistö was asked if he was worried that the Ukraine issue would overshadow his meeting and news conference with Trump.

"I'm not frightened of anything. It is up the US reporters. I think they will be interested in the subject, but it doesn't bother me," he replied.

According to Niinistö's office, the presidents were to talk about "opportunities to increase cooperation between Finland and the United States, including European and Arctic security" as well as ways "to advance shared interests in commercial and technological cooperation".

Trump may try to sell fighter jets

Security expert Hans Binnendijk tells Yle that the Trump administration is particularly interested in Finland's views and know-how in issues related to Russia and the Baltics as well as countering hybrid threats.

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Hans Binnendijk, Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council Image: Nina Svahn

Binnendijk is a former defence policy assistant to President Bill Clinton and now a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank focusing on ties between North America and Europe. He spoke to Yle in Washington after a recent visit to Finland hosted by the Finnish Defence Ministry.

He says that the US hopes for closer defence cooperation even though Finland is not a Nato member.

Binnendijk notes that Finland and Sweden signed a three-way pact on defence cooperation last year, adding that the two Nordic countries are "in many ways better allies than some of our official allies".

He says he would not be surprised if Trump urges Finland to order new Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet or Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets to replace its ageing fleet of F/A-18 Hornets.

Flurry of recent meetings

When Niinistö and Trump previously met at the White House in August 2017, the US president falsely stated that Finland had already decided to order more Hornets, triggering a rare correction from Niinistö's office.

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Niinistö and Trump in August 2017 Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

The two met again in Helsinki in July 2018 when the US president met with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

This year, Niinistö met with Putin for the second time this year in late August in Helsinki, followed by mid-September talks with Zelensky in Kiev. Trump briefly met both Niinistö and Zelensky last week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly's opening events.

Niinistö, who is on an official working visit to the US laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Trump is scheduled to welcome him at the White House's South Portico at noon local time, proceeding directly to an Oval Office meeting and a working lunch to begin around 12:45.

At 2pm local time (9 pm Finnish time), the two leaders are to hold a joint press conference in the East Room or the Rose Garden – where temperatures are predicted to rise to around 35 degrees Celsius.

Yle Areena will livestream the event beginning around 8:50pm Finnish time.