Donald Trump tells Theresa May he is ‘100% behind Nato’
US president says he does not agree with defence secretary about uses of waterboarding
UK prime minister Theresa May listens to US president Donald Trump during their joint news conference at the White House in Washington DC. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
US president Donald Trump has told UK prime minister Theresa May that he is “100 per cent behind” Nato, and insisted that, although he believed that torture works, his defence secretary would “override” him.
In a wide-ranging press conference after an Oval Office meeting between the two leaders – the first visit by a foreign leader since Mr Trump became the US president a week ago – Ms May told reporters that the two were “united in our recognition of Nato as the bulwark of our collective defence”.
“Today we have reaffirmed our unshakeable commitment to this alliance,” she said before turning to Mr Trump. “Mr President, I think you said, you confirmed that you were 100 per cent behind Nato.”
Her statement will reassure leaders in Europe who were fearful that under Mr Trump’s “America first” policies he would step back from US commitments to Nato, which has described as “obsolete”.
Mr Trump’s notably relaxed demeanour during a wide-ranging press conference that lasted about 20 minutes, and the warm words between the two leaders, will be viewed as a good start to a “special relationship” seen as especially important to the UK in light of the Brexit referendum.
As he spoke at the podium in the East Room of the White House, Mr Trump said that he did not agree with the opinion of General James Mattis, his defence secretary, that waterboarding – a form of simulated drowning considered to be torture – did not work, but that he would defer to the man he has put in charge of the Pentagon.
“I don’t necessarily agree,” said the US president before adding: “He will override [me] because I am giving him the power.”
Asked about an hour-long phone call that took place earlier on Friday with Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto in their dispute over Mr Trump’s plan to build a border wall, the Republican president said he had a “very good call” and “a very, very friendly call”, but he lambasted Mexico again on its trading arrangements.
Mr Trump complained, citing the country’s $60 billion trade deficit with Mexico, that its southern neighbour had “out-negotiated us”, “beat us to a pulp” and “made us look foolish”.
He sparked a diplomatic row on Wednesday when he ordered the construction of a multibillion-dollar wall along the 3,145km border with Mexico and insisted again that he would make Mexico pay for it. The Mexican president cancelled a meeting with Mr Trump over the spat.
Shortly after the press conference, the Mexican government released a statement saying that the leaders of both countries acknowledged “very clear policy differences” but that they agreed to resolve them in bilateral talks and that Mr Trump would not talk publicly about payment of the wall.
Mr Trump also responded to reports that the Trump administration was considering dropping sanctions against Russia, saying that it was “very early to be talking about that”.
Ms May took a different view to Mr Trump, insisting that sanctions could not be lifted until the Kremlin agreed to withdraw from eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
Bragging about his prediction that the British would vote to leave the European Union last June, Mr Trump said that he believed Brexit was “going to be a wonderful thing” for the UK.
“When it irons out, you are going to have your own identity and you are going to have the people you want in your country and you are going to be able to make free trade deals without having somebody watching you and what you are doing,” he said.
Complaining about the European Union, Mr Trump referred to his failure to secure environment approval for development work at his golf course in Doonbeg, Co Clare.
“I had a very bad experience. I had something in another country and getting the approvals from Europe was very, very tough,” he said.
Without mentioning Ireland, Mr Trump went on to say that securing approval from “the country” was “easy” and efficient but not from “the consortium” – a reference to the EU.
In response to a question from a British reporter about whether “the hardworking daughter of a vicar” and a “brash TV extrovert” could get along, Mr Trump defended his manner and his past record of switching position on policies.
“Actually, I am not as brash as you might think and I can tell you that I think we are going to get along very well . . . I am people person,” he said,
He said that he believed that he and Ms May were “going to have a fantastic relationship” and rejected past pivots. “I really don’t change my position very much,” he said.