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