Trump turns up charm

A day af­ter crit­i­cal re­marks are re­leased, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is com­pli­men­tary of Bri­tain’s Theresa May and en­joys tea with the queen.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - In­for­ma­tion from the As­so­ci­ated Press was used in this re­port.

LON­DON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Fri­day tried to re­pair the diplo­matic dam­age he caused with an ex­plo­sive in­ter­view blast­ing his host, Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May of Bri­tain, by prais­ing her lead­er­ship and call­ing their two coun­tries’ relationship “the high­est level of spe­cial,” even as he con­tin­ued to pub­licly ques­tion her de­ci­sions.

And then, af­ter all the diplo­matic tu­mult, it was time to sip tea with the queen.

Dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at Che­quers, the prime min­is­ter’s 16th cen­tury of­fi­cial coun­try res­i­dence, Trump was by turns de­fi­ant, fawn­ing and dis­mis­sive about the in­ter­view. He first tried to deny he had crit­i­cized the prime min­is­ter and blamed the em­bar­rass­ing episode on the news me­dia. When that rang hol­low, he then tried to com­pen­sate by lav­ish­ing May with com­pli­ments and, in the end, claimed that the slights were so in­signif­i­cant that she had waved off his at­tempts at an apol­ogy.

The con­tor­tions fol­lowed a re­port in the Sun news­pa­per late Thurs­day that quoted him crit­i­ciz­ing May’s ap­proach to Bri­tain’s with­drawal from the Euro­pean Union, the process known as Brexit. He said her busi­ness-friendly plan would leave Bri­tain closely tied to the bloc, ul­ti­mately killing the prospect of a trade deal be­tween the United States and Bri­tain. He then pro­ceeded to praise per­haps her most prom­i­nent ri­val, Boris John­son, who re­signed as for­eign sec­re­tary last week in protest over her Brexit plan.

“I didn’t crit­i­cize the prime min­is­ter; I have a lot of re­spect

for the prime min­is­ter,” Trump told re­porters dur­ing an out­door news con­fer­ence af­ter he and May had met for talks. He blamed “fake news,” falsely claim­ing the re­port — in a right-wing, pro-Brexit, Mur­do­chowned tabloid — had omit­ted any praise of May.

“I think she’s do­ing a ter­rific job, by the way,” Trump added, call­ing her “tough” and “ca­pa­ble.”

He also used the news con­fer­ence to lay out an am­bi­tious agenda for his Mon­day meet­ing in Helsinki with Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of Rus­sia, say­ing he had low ex­pec­ta­tions but high hopes for progress on nu­clear arms con­trol is­sues, Syria and Ukraine. He said he would ask Putin about Rus­sia’s med­dling in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, but he said he did not ex­pect his Rus­sian coun­ter­part to ac­knowl­edge his role.

“I don’t think you’ll have any ‘Gee, I did it, you got me,’ ” Trump said, ad­ding that there would not be a “Perry Ma­son mo­ment,” a ref­er­ence to the old TV court­room drama. “I will ab­so­lutely, firmly ask the ques­tion.”

Even as he tried to pivot away from his crit­i­cism of May, Trump did con­firm per­haps the most dam­ag­ing el­e­ment of the re­port in the Sun, which quoted him say­ing that the prime min­is­ter had re­jected his advice about how to ap­proach Brexit and was there­fore headed down a dam­ag­ing path.

Trump said that the first thing he had done upon his ar­rival at Che­quers on Fri­day was to offer a mea culpa to May but that she had as­sured him none was nec­es­sary, join­ing him in pin­ning the drama on the news me­dia.

“I said, ‘I want to apologize, be­cause I said such good things about you,’ ” Trump said of May, ad­ding, “She said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s only the press.’ ”

May, for her part, denied that she had felt un­der­mined by the ar­ti­cle, piv­ot­ing re­peat­edly to her in­sis­tence that the Brexit plan she is pur­su­ing will, in fact, pave the way for an “am­bi­tious” bi­lat­eral trade deal.

Af­ter Fri­day’s news con­fer­ence Trump took a break from his spar­ring with U.S. al­lies and the press to en­joy one of diplomacy’s old­est tra­di­tions.

The pres­i­dent and first lady Me­la­nia Trump were de­liv­ered by chauf­feured Range Rover at early evening Fri­day to the court­yard of Wind­sor Cas­tle, where Queen El­iz­a­beth II was await­ing them un­der a canopy on a dais — far from the anti-Trump pro­test­ers demon­strat­ing across Lon­don.

There were hand­shakes all around, and then the three­some stood sideby-side as a mil­i­tary band played the Amer­i­can na­tional an­them. With the queen in the mid­dle, the Trumps seemed to tower over the monarch, who stands roughly 5-foot-3. The pres­i­dent is about 6-foot-2, and Mrs. Trump is near that in her spiky heels.

The pres­i­dent and queen then broke off to re­view the troops, walk­ing slowly past a line of Cold­stream Guards wear­ing tra­di­tional bearskin hats.

The Trumps and the queen were sched­uled to spend about 30 min­utes get­ting ac­quainted over tea inside the cas­tle but the visit stretched past 45 min­utes.

While the Trumps were en­joy­ing tea with the queen, tens of thou­sands of demon­stra­tors turned out in Lon­don alone. A “Trump Baby” bal­loon was launched into the sky above Par­lia­ment Square. Many peo­ple banged pots and pans and chanted slo­gans. Those were some of the ways peo­ple on Fri­day mounted protests at ev­ery stage of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s work­ing visit to Bri­tain.

The most an­tic­i­pated in­stall­ment of Bri­tain’s “Stop Trump” protests — a gi­ant or­ange bal­loon of Trump de­picted as a pout­ing baby in a di­a­per and hold­ing a smart­phone — took flight in Lon­don ear­lier in the day.

As if they were waiting for a rocket launch, dozens of peo­ple gath­ered around the 19-foot bal­loon and counted down from 10 be­fore it was re­leased into the air.

“This is a vic­tory,” said Leo Mur­ray, an ac­tivist and the cre­ator of the bal­loon. “Peo­ple love it, he hates it, and it’s driven him out of Lon­don.”

As­so­ci­ated Press pho­tos

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump walks with Queen El­iz­a­beth II on Fri­day at Wind­sor Cas­tle be­fore sit­ting down for tea.

Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May brushed off Trump’s com­ments printed late Thurs­day in the Sun news­pa­per.

LUKE MACGREGOR | Bloomberg

The “Trump Baby” bal­loon, a he­lium-filled ef­figy of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, lifts off from Par­lia­ment Square in Lon­don on Fri­day.

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