Lon­don­ers glee­ful as Trump calls o≠ Feb. visit

He cites ‘bad’ em­bassy deal; oth­ers sus­pect fear of protests

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY KARLA ADAM

lon­don — Pres­i­dent Trump’s can­cel­la­tion of a pos­si­ble trip to the Bri­tish cap­i­tal next month in­spired glee and con­cern Fri­day, while rais­ing new ques­tions about the strained re­la­tions be­tween Lon­don and Wash­ing­ton.

In an early-morn­ing tweet, Trump said he was scrap­ping a visit be­cause he is “not a big fan” of the real es­tate deal in which the United States sold the lease of its old em­bassy, lo­cated in an af­flu­ent cen­tral Lon­don neigh­bor­hood, to move to a new site in south Lon­don, an area Trump de­scribed as an “off lo­ca­tion.”

Many Lon­don­ers sug­gested the real rea­son he is not com­ing is be­cause he is con­cerned about hos­tile demon­stra­tions.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of Lon­don, said a visit would spark “mass peace­ful protests.” Trump is not wel­come in Lon­don while he pur­sues a “di­vi­sive agenda,” Khan tweeted, and “it seems he’s fi­nally got that mes­sage.”

But at least one promi­nent Bri­tish cabi­net of­fi­cial took no part in the gloat­ing. For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son, a for­mer mayor of Lon­don, ac­cused Khan and Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn of en­dan­ger­ing the “cru­cial re­la­tion­ship” be­tween the United States and Bri­tain. He also called Khan a “puffed up pompous popin­jay.”

The White House had not for­mally an­nounced the visit Trump said he had can­celed, but the pres­i­dent was widely ex­pected to at­tend a cer­e­mony next month to ded­i­cate the new em­bassy. Robert “Woody” John­son, the U.S. am­bas­sador to Bri­tain and a friend of Trump’s, told the

BBC last month he was op­ti­mistic about a visit in the new year.

Un­like other Euro­pean lead­ers, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May ini­tially went out of her way to ex­tend a hand of friend­ship to the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. She of­fered the pres­i­dent a full state visit just a week af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion, prompt­ing spec­u­la­tion that she was hop­ing to se­cure a good trade deal post-Brexit. But things have since grown strained.

Robin Ni­blett, the di­rec­tor of Chatham House, a Lon­don think tank, said that U.S.-Bri­tish re­la­tions are “buf­feted” by Trump’s moods. He noted that on some mat­ters, such as the day-to-day busi­ness of se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries, the re­la­tion­ship is good but that on big for­eign pol­icy is­sues — such as the Paris cli­mate agree­ment or the Iran nu­clear deal — it is tense.

“A per­sonal re­la­tion­ship be­tween Trump and May should be there to cover some of those dif­fer­ences in strate­gic ap­proach, but it just can’t,” he said, adding that Trump is “con­stantly look­ing for new ex­cuses not to come.”

Some for­eign pol­icy an­a­lysts in Wash­ing­ton sug­gested Trump and May could meet this year on the side­lines of sum­mits in other coun­tries, and one sug­gested Trump could visit a smaller city in Bri­tain, per­haps one that in­cluded one of his golf re­sorts.

“It is ex­traor­di­nary that the pres­i­dent of the United States can­not visit Bri­tain over the fear of mass protests,” said Thomas Wright, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter on the United States and Europe at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion in Wash­ing­ton. “That’s un­prece­dented.”

Julie Smith, a se­nior fel­low at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity who served as deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser for Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, called it “a sorry state of play.”

“It says a lot about where our re­la­tion­ship is with the U.K. and how thin-skinned our pres­i­dent is,” she said.

Smith scoffed at the idea that Trump was wor­ried about the cost and lo­ca­tion of the em­bassy, not­ing that the move has been in the works for years.

The old em­bassy is in el­e­gant May­fair, an area dot­ted with for­eign em­bassies and close to West End de­part­ment stores. The area is full of res­i­den­tial build­ings, and neigh­bors were apt to com­plain about the threat to their homes.

Robert H. Tut­tle, who served as U.S. am­bas­sador to Bri­tain from 2005 to 2009, said he knew early on that the mis­sion would need to move.

“There were two nar­row side streets by the em­bassy,” he said in an in­ter­view. “They are very slim, and if some­one came down there with a truck, à la the Ok­la­homa City bomb­ing, it would not only blow up half the em­bassy and kill half the peo­ple in it, but it would also kill half the peo­ple in nearby res­i­dences.”

John­son, the cur­rent am­bas­sador, agreed that se­cu­rity con­cerns af­ter Sept. 11, 2001, ne­ces­si­tated the move. The new, big­ger em­bassy is in Nine Elms, a for­mer in­dus­trial area in Bat­tersea, south of the River Thames. It’s as close to West­min­ster as the old em­bassy.

In a piece for the Evening Stan­dard news­pa­per, John­son wrote that the new bil­lion-dol­lar fa­cil­ity “did not cost the US tax­payer a cent” — it was fi­nanced by sell­ing off other Lon­don prop­er­ties — and is “the most se­cure, hi-tech and en­v­i­ron- men­tally friendly em­bassy that the United States has ever built. “

In his tweet, which landed at 5 a.m. Lon­don time, Trump wrote: “Rea­son I can­celed my trip to Lon­don is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion hav­ing sold per­haps the best lo­cated and finest em­bassy in Lon­don for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off lo­ca­tion for 1.2 bil­lion dol­lars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut rib­bon — NO.”

In fact, it was the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion that de­cided more than a decade ago to re­lo­cate the em­bassy dur­ing a world­wide push to im­prove secu- rity at U.S. diplo­matic sites.

Trump is a highly con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure in Bri­tain, where he re­cently suc­ceeded in unit­ing politi­cians across the political aisle when he retweeted a far­right group’s anti-Mus­lim videos. There is rea­son to be­lieve that a visit by the pres­i­dent also would be met by loud op­po­si­tion in the streets.

Shortly af­ter Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, tens of thou­sands of demon­stra­tors turned out in Lon­don for a women’s march in sol­i­dar­ity with anti-Trump ral­lies world­wide.

A group called “Stop Trump” vowed the “big­gest demon­stra­tion in Bri­tish his­tory,” should Trump visit. On a Face­book event page, more than 8,000 reg­is­tered to at­tend a rally for a protest event that isn’t even sched­uled.

A wax fig­ure of the U.S. pres­i­dent did not get the memo about the can­celed visit and on Fri­day made a brief ap­pear­ance out­side the new em­bassy.

Trump’s visit there was ex­pected to be a scaled-down work­ing trip that would in­clude a rib­bon­cut­ting cer­e­mony. Bri­tish me­dia out­lets re­ported that Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son will now do the hon­ors.

Two White House of­fi­cials did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment Fri­day.

Asked about Trump call­ing off his em­bassy visit, a Down­ing Street spokesman re­it­er­ated that a full state visit, where the queen acts as of­fi­cial host, “has been ac­cepted and stands.”

De­spite be­ing of­fered nearly a year ago, that visit has yet to be sched­uled.

Mean­while, Twit­ter users seized the mo­ment. The site was abuzz with peo­ple shar­ing fan­ci­ful rea­sons for can­cel­ing a trip to Lon­don us­ing the hash­tag #ICan­celledMyTripToLon­don.

One user wrote: “#ICan­celledMyTripToLon­don be­cause Hadrian hasn’t fin­ished build­ing that wall. Shoddy.”

“It is ex­traor­di­nary that the pres­i­dent of the United States can­not visit Bri­tain over the fear of mass protests. That’s un­prece­dented.” Thomas Wright, Cen­ter on the United States and Europe at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion

LEON NEAL/GETTY IM­AGES

A wax fig­ure of Pres­i­dent Trump stands out­side the new U.S. Em­bassy in Lon­don. The pres­i­dent tweeted that he will not go ahead with a visit to the bil­lion-dol­lar com­plex planned for next month.

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