U.S.-UK economic cooperation dominates first official state visit at the White House.
In the middle of a great imbroglio with Mexico over borders and trade, President Trump hosted his first foreign leader at the White House on Friday.
Trump was congratulated on “a stunning election victory” by Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom as the two held a brief news conference in the East Room.
But despite the warm relationship between Trump and May, questions arose about how the two leaders would proceed on such touchy issues as the NATO alliance, trade, regulation and Russian aggression in the Ukraine.
May touted trade between the United States and the United Kingdom.
She told the news conference that trade with the United States is worth about $190 billion annually, and that each nation has invested $1 trillion in each other’s economies.
But the two longtime allies do not have a free trade agreement. While British leaders have not explicitly asked for one of late, U.K. leaders are hoping for a better trade deal.
May said such an agreement would be in the national interests of both nations.
“We are discussing how we can establish a trade negotiation agreement, take forward immediate high-level talks, lay the groundwork for U.K.-U.S. trade agreement, and identify the practical steps we can take now in order to enable companies in both countries to trade and do business with one another more easily,” said May.
May said better trade agreements between the United States and the United Kingdom are particularly important after the approval of “Brexit” over the summer. British voters shocked the world when they approved an exit from the European Union.
A BBC reporter pressed Trump for his “alarming beliefs,” particularly his support for “torture,” including, waterboarding.
Waterboarding and “enhanced interrogation” was used during the administration of President George W. Bush. There is a longtime debate on whether waterboarding and other methods such as sleep deprivation are torture methods.
Trump said he would defer on the issue to Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has publicly stated he does not prefer to use such methods.
Trump was asked by John Roberts of Fox News on his hour-long call earlier in the day.
Trump’s tweets on Thursday, demanding Mexican payment on the border wall, caused Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel a planned Tuesday meeting to talk trade.
The cancellation caused a stir in Washington, and drew criticism that Trump was not diplomatically approaching the Mexican government on the border wall and the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But Trump said he spoke with Peña Nieto on Friday, and that it was a friendly conversation. The president said he and the Mexican leader agreed to hash out their differences, away from the spotlight.
Trump was asked by a member of the British press how Trump and May would get along, as he is a “brash TV extrovert” who changed his positions a lot.
Trump said his position on trade has been consistent throughout the course of decades.
Trump then praised the British decision on Brexit, noting the multinational union had evolved into a regulatory state that chipped away at British sovereignty.
May said Trump and she both share a concern for the ordinary working peoples of their countries.
“They’re working all the hours … They just feel the odds are stacked against them,” said May. “I think we both share [a concern for them].”