US President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May in the White House Oval Office in Washington, US, January 27, 2017.
US President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May in the White House Oval Office in Washington, US, January 27, 2017.

President Donald Trump made his debut as a statesman Friday, welcoming British Prime Minister Theresa May as the first foreign leader to visit his White House.

The meeting is a pivotal moment in trans-Atlantic relations, which have been rocked by Trump's election and his willingness to rethink NATO, the UN and other foundation blocks of the liberal world order.

Trump greeted May upon her arrival at the White House. The pair then met in the Oval Office, posing and shaking hands in front of a bust of Winston Churchill.

US President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May in the White House Oval Office in Washington, US, January 27, 2017. (Reuters)
US President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May in the White House Oval Office in Washington, US, January 27, 2017. (Reuters)

May hopes to win the US president's support for collective security arrangements that have underpinned European security since World War II.

Trump has decried NATO as "obsolete" and expressed a willingness to befriend Russia's Vladimir Putin – two positions that deeply concern European leaders from London to Lisbon.

US President Donald Trump escorts British Prime Minister Theresa May after their meeting at the White House in Washington, US, January 27, 2017. (Reuters)
US President Donald Trump escorts British Prime Minister Theresa May after their meeting at the White House in Washington, US, January 27, 2017. (Reuters)

Much of Britain's military power, including its nuclear deterrent, depends on US equipment and systems.

In private, European diplomats fret about the influence of top Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who has made common cause with right-wing nationalists and populists in France, Britain and beyond.

TRT World's Jennifer Glasse reports from Washington.

Shortly after his election, Trump met with right-wing British politician Nigel Farage, who has made dismantling the European Union his life's work.

The two leaders later addressed a joint press conference at the White House during which a range of issues were covered, including

  • US-Mexico relations
  • Ties with Russia
  • Brexit
  • ​Use of torture

The right stuff

May arrived in the US on Thursday and received a rapturous welcome from Republican lawmakers gathering in Philadelphia and gave a speech urging them to "beware" of Russia, and warning US allies to "step up" and play a greater role in global security.

Members of a ceremonial guard carry flags prior to the arrival of British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House in Washington, US, January 27, 2017. (Reuters)
Members of a ceremonial guard carry flags prior to the arrival of British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House in Washington, US, January 27, 2017. (Reuters)

Acknowledging rising tensions between the US and China, she said fears of the "eclipse of the West" would not be fulfilled if Britain and the US continued to stand together.

May said NATO member states should contribute their fair share – a complaint made by the former and current US administrations – but defended the alliance from Trump's claims it was "obsolete."

May also defended the Iranian nuclear deal against the president's criticism, saying it was "vitally important" for regional security – but must now be properly enforced.

Addressing a joint press conference later during the day, the British prime minister said Trump had vowed "100 percent" support for NATO. She added that the US president had accepted the invitation for a state visit to Britain "later this year."

Mexico president and Trump talk by phone

Trump, while addressing a joint news conference with British Prime Minister May, said he looks forward to coming months negotiating with Mexico.

"We had a very good call. I have been very strong on Mexico. I have great respect for Mexico ... but, as you know, Mexico with the United States has out-negotiated us and beat us to a pulp through our past leaders. They've made us look foolish," Trump said.

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto spoke with Trump by telephone on Friday, a day after cancelling a trip to the White House over the US president's demands Mexico pay for a border wall.

Trump said the call was friendly and he looked forward to renegotiating the US trade relationship with Mexico in the future.

US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May smile as they hold a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, US, January 27, 2017. (Reuters)
US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May smile as they hold a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, US, January 27, 2017. (Reuters)

The Mexican government said in a statement that talks between Trump and Pena Nieto were productive and constructive, and included the topics of trade deficit between the US and Mexico, and the flow of illegal arms and drugs across the border.

"Regarding payment of the border wall, both presidents recognised their clear and very public differences of opinion on this sensitive subject, and agreed to resolve their differences as part of a comprehensive discussion on all aspects of the bilateral relationship," the statement said.

"The presidents also agreed for now to not talk publicly about this controversial issue."

Russia sanctions

Trump played down speculation that he is about to lift sanctions on Russia, as British Premier May said they should continue.

Asked by reporters whether the US president was planning to release Russia from sanctions imposed over its intervention in Ukraine, Trump said, "It's very early to be talking about that."

May said Britain believes sanctions should continue until Russia upholds its end of the international Minsk Agreement drawn up to end the conflict.

Answering another question, Trump said it is possible he would have a good relationship with Russian President Vladmir Putin and it is also possible not to have a good relationship with Putin.

Brexit

Trump threw his weight behind Britain's exit from the European Union, saying it would be a "wonderful thing" for the country.

"I think when it irons out, you're going to have your own identity, and you are going to have the people that you want in your country," the US president said.

"You're going to be able to make free trade deals without having somebody watching you and what you are doing."

Torture

The US president reiterated that he supports harsh interrogation techniques including waterboarding that are widely condemned as torture, but will defer to his Pentagon chief, who opposes their use.

Defense Secretary James Mattis "will override because I'm giving him that power," Trump said at the conference with May. "He is an expert. He is highly respected."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies