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After Meeting With Prime Minister May, President Trump's Tone Softens


There is a pattern to President Trump - Trump's trip to Europe so far. First he'll talk tough about some of America's closest allies. But when he's face to face with those same leaders, he often softens his criticism, talking up the strength of the relationship. Yesterday, for example, The Sun newspaper ran an interview where President Trump ripped into British Prime Minister Theresa May, saying she hasn't handled the U.K.'s exit from the European Union well. Today, though, he insisted that they've never had a better relationship. And the two have been holding a bilateral summit and working lunch together this afternoon. May and Trump have just emerged from that meeting. Here's Theresa May.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: This transatlantic alliance will continue to be the bedrock of our shared security and prosperity for years to come.

MARTIN: And President Trump addressed Brexit with a slightly different tone than in his Son interview.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Perhaps the U.K. has left the EU. I don't know what they're going to do, but whatever you do is OK with me. That's your decision. Whatever you're going to do is OK with us. Just make sure we can trade together. That's all that matters.

MARTIN: I'm joined now by NPR London correspondent Frank Langfitt and NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Hello to both of you.



MARTIN: All right. Ayesha, I want to start with you. There has been this back-and-forth in Trump's tone before the meeting. As we noted, he was laying into Theresa May. Now they couldn't be closer. So does that mean that they are on the same page at this moment?

RASCOE: It is unclear (laughter). The president has been sending very mixed messages about what he wants. Part of it is President Trump always likes to say that he has very good relationships with other leaders, and so he likes to make sure that he says he gets along with everyone. So when he's with them, he always complements them. But when they're not around, he says things like he said about Theresa May, about her policy with Brexit - that he feels like that they didn't handle it correctly. We know that he's not a fan of the EU and their practices. So if the U.K. does adopt a plan where they're still keeping kind of the rules of the road - the same as with the EU - that seems like it would be a problem for the Trump administration.

MARTIN: Frank, has Theresa May weighed in on the criticism that Donald Trump put in her...

LANGFITT: Well, she just was starting to. They're actually taking questions right now, and she seems to be really talking more about Brexit and her plans. There's a little bit of a sense of a parallel universe here. I mean, we all read the interview in The Sun overnight in which he was very critical of Prime Minister May. And today, right here at Chequers - out of the country state of the prime minister's - he was saying, oh, I'm not being critical of her. He also said that the interview was generally fine. And there's just sort of a - it's a very awkward situation in which both leaders of both countries are trying to ignore it, to a certain degree, what happened and not fully resolve it. So you're hearing very different things. Often, you know, when we see what Donald Trump tweets and we hear what he says, as Ayesha was saying, away from foreign leaders, we tend to think that that's maybe a little more - because it's more in private - is a little more reflective of what he actually thinks.

MARTIN: Ayesha, what other issues have come up at the press conference? Do we know?

RASCOE: Well, they talked about - they tried to focus on the areas where they agree to a certain extent. They talked up this idea that eventually they want the U.S. and the U.K. to have a bilateral trade agreement, and they want to move ahead with that. They talked about continuing to collaborate when it comes to national security and, you know, their support. Prime Minister May talked about her support for President Trump's push to rein in North Korea and also her support for him meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

MARTIN: Her support of him meeting with Putin.

RASCOE: Yes, she said...

LANGFITT: (Laughter).

RASCOE: ...She supports it and that they have to talk to - in the idea that they have to have dialogue with Russia.

MARTIN: I hear Frank laughing because, of course, NATO allies don't - they're not exactly on the same page when it comes to this summit that's coming up in Helsinki.

LANGFITT: No, they're not. I mean, I think from their perspective, they had the president of the United States and, of course, the United States - the world's largest military by far criticizing them a great deal a couple of days ago and now heading off to see President Putin in Helsinki. And I think, actually, given what's happened in the last few days here, the president of the United States attacking allies and now going to see President Putin, who many would see - at a minimum - as a rival to the United States - people, I think, are going to be scrutinizing that meeting very, very closely.

MARTIN: We should also just note Theresa May is not exactly in a great position politically in her home country.

LANGFITT: No. And this - you know, it's very interesting. She's had a really rough week here. She's lost a couple of top Cabinet members, and this was another wound that you wouldn't expect - is this domestic political problem. But the attack actually comes from outside of the country from your closest ally.

MARTIN: NPR London correspondent Frank Langfitt and NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks to you both.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.