LONDON (Alliance News) – UK Prime Minister Theresa May will become the first foreign leader to visit US president Donald Trump at the White House on Friday, in a meeting she hopes will help renew the special relationship between Britain and America.
The two leaders will spend about an hour in face-to-face talks on Friday in the Oval Office, where Trump has restored a bust of Winston Churchill removed by predecessor Barack Obama.
As she arrived in the US, May said Brexit and the election of Trump would allow Britain and America to take up a stronger leadership role in the world.
And she brushed off suggestions that their different styles will make it difficult for them to work together, saying: “Haven’t you noticed – Sometimes opposites attract.”
Top of the agenda for May will be preparations for a free trade deal between the UK and US after Britain has withdrawn from the European Union.
But the pair will also discuss security challenges including Syria, Russia and the threat from Islamist terror.
And May has made clear she will mount a staunch defence of the continuing value of NATO, after the Atlantic military alliance was dismissed as “obsolete” by Trump on the campaign trail.
Speaking to congressmen from the president’s Republican party in Philadelphia on Thursday, May lent her weight to Trump’s call for NATO members to match the US and UK in meeting promises to spend 2% of GDP on defence.
And she offered backing for some of the president’s other foreign policy priorities, condemning Iran’s “malign influence” in the Middle East, promising to “stand up” for Israel’s security and vowing not to repeat “failed” interventions like the Blair-Bush invasion of Iraq.
But she also had words of caution for Trump over his approach to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, suggesting his watchword should be “engage but beware”.
European Customs Union rules bar the UK from formal negotiations on a free trade agreement with the US until after it has left the EU in two years’ time.
But Trump has shown himself eager for a swift deal and May said on Thursday that she believed some progress could be made on easing trade while waiting to negotiate a full deal.
“I think there is much we can do in the interim in terms of looking at how we can remove some of the barriers to trade in a number of areas, so we are able to see an advantage to both of us even if we haven’t been able to sign that legal free trade agreement,” she said.
May will face questions over whether the NHS will be protected from private US firms in any deal, after she responded to the issue on Thursday by simply saying the government was committed to the principle of healthcare free at the point of use.
And Trump’s decision to grant a press conference – his first since his inauguration a week ago – may expose differences between the two leaders on issues like the use of torture.
May has said the UK will not shift from its condemnation of torture, while Trump has indicated he is ready to use techniques like waterboarding in the fight against terror, saying: “Absolutely I think it works.”
Before her appointment at the White House, May will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery, Virginia, the last resting place of a number of UK troops who have lost their lives fighting alongside US forces.
May’s speech to Thursday’s Republican Congressmen’s Retreat was the first time a foreign head of government had addressed the annual gathering.
In a sign of her determination to deepen links with the Republican establishment as well as the team around Trump, she held private talks with senior congressmen including House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
Aides said the meeting with Ryan focused on trade and he told May that Republicans in both houses were very keen to work with the UK on a deal beneficial for both sides. Ryan is understood to have expressed a desire to begin work as soon as possible.
By Andrew Woodcock, Press Association Political Editor, in Washington DC
Source: Press Association
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