President Trump met with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader since he took office a week ago.
With the United Kingdom preparing to leave the European Union, May is looking for a trade deal with the U.S.
“I am convinced a trade deal between U.S. and U.K. is in national interest of both countries,” the prime minister said at a White House news conference with Trump after their meeting.
“I think Brexit is going to be a wonderful thing for your country,” Trump said. “I think when it irons out you’re going to have your own identity and you’re going to have the people that you want in your country, and you’re going to be able to make free trade deals without having somebody watching you and what you’re doing.”
The two leaders also touched on the future of NATO, the post-World War II military alliance between the U.S. and Europe.
During his campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized NATO, calling the organization “obsolete.” He also suggested that America might not defend fellow NATO countries that didn’t help reimburse the U.S. for the cost of its troops and bases in Europe, as NPR’s Frank Langfitt has reported.
But during a speech Thursday to Republicans gathered in Philadelphia, May argued that U.S. support was crucial, saying, “America’s leadership role in NATO — supported by Britain — must be the central element around which the alliance is built.”
At the news conference, May said, “On defense and security, we are united in our recognition of NATO as the bulwark of our collective defense,” adding as she turned to Trump, “Mr. President, I think you confirmed that you’re 100 percent behind NATO.”
Trump did not address NATO. Asked whether his seeming change in position should be seen as genuine, he said, “I really don’t change my position very much.”
Ahead of the meeting with Trump, May faced political pressure at home over their relationship. “Critics in Parliament said she should be more skeptical before cozying up to the new American president,” Frank reported.
One member of Parliament from Scotland, Pete Wishart, expressed particular concern about Trump’s stated support for torture.
“When a United States president backs torture as an instrument of policy, when particular religions are picked out for exclusion, when women’s rights are set back for decades, should this country not be just a little more cautious before accepting this Trumpian embrace?” Wishart said.
Asked about the issue on Friday, May did not directly address the issue of torture, confirming that, “there will be times we disagree,” and arguing that the “special” relationship between the two countries, referred to at least a dozen times during the news conference, allowed for “open frank discussion” on a range of topics.
A 2005 law bans the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of military detainees.
On Friday, Trump appeared to say he would defer to his defense secretary on the issue of torture:
“We have a great General who has just been appointed Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, and he has stated publicly that he does not necessarily believe in torture, or waterboarding, or however you want to define it — enhanced interrogation I guess is a word, a lot of words, a lot of people would like to use. I don’t necessarily agree, but I will tell you he would override because I’m giving him that power.”
The president continued, “I happen to feel it does work. I’ve been open about that for a long time. But I am going with our leaders and we’re going to win with or without, but I do disagree.”