Opposites attract: May, Trump appear to be on same page
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After President Trump’s very public spat with Mexico, the White House meeting between British Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump showed two nations that appear to have a working chemistry. Differences between the two leaders did surface, most clearly with regard to views on Russia, but even those were toned down.

Instead, Trump made the Winston Churchill reference to the “special relationship” between the nations — fitting since Trump placed a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office — and added the personal note that his mother was born in Scotland.

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The meeting with May netted Trump a coveted invitation from the Queen: “In a further sign of the importance of that relationship I have today been able to convey Her Majesty the Queen's hope that President Trump and the First Lady would pay a state visit to the United Kingdom later this year and I'm delighted that the President has accepted that invitation," May said.

May, for her part, gained a stronger post-Brexit relationship, an agreement to a future trade deal, and, so she says, a 100-percent commitment to NATO from Trump.

May made a point of announcing a foreign policy outlook that differs significantly from the one shared by former leaders, George W. Bush and Tony Blair. 

“The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over,” she said in Philadelphia the day before the Oval Office meeting at the GOP retreat. 

However, May made clear that the U.K. will not “stand idly by when the threat is real and when it is in our own interests to intervene."

She referred to the fight against ISIS in her remarks, but it was not clear whether the two nations' paths will diverge when it comes to Russian aggression.

In Philadelphia, May spoke of the importance of the U.K. and U.S.' work to establish the post-war Bretton Woods organizations, including the United Nations and the World Bank. 

That may have been a way to temper the anger that May is hearing — from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, among others — about voting in favor of the resolution that condemned Israel for its settlements policy.

That is the same resolution that has the U.N. in hot water with the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration. In addition, a reported new executive order outlining up to 40 percent cuts in voluntary U.S. contributions to the U.N could be on the way.

For all of May's talk about the importance of the U.N., the Trump administration’s U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, said on Friday, “Everything that’s not working, we’re going to try and fix; and anything that seems to be obsolete and not necessary, we’re going to do away with.”

Diplomacy is as much about chemistry as it is about dealmaking. Clearly, the Trump administration has little chemistry with Mexico, but Britain is another matter.

To work together on trade, Trump and May can make bilateral agreements, but at the U.N., alliances matter. Whether the U.S. and U.K. will work in tandem at the U.N. on international crises is not clear.

At the end of the day, what sealed the deal for May was the positive response to the most pressing issue on her agenda — the agreement by Trump to engage in bilateral trade once Britain leaves the European Union.

“We are discussing how we can establish a trade negotiation agreement, take forward immediate high-level talks, [and] lay the groundwork for a U.K.-U.S. trade agreement," May said.

Trump responded: “I think Brexit's going to be a wonderful thing for your country…you're going to be able to make free trade deals without having somebody watching you and what you're doing.”

Both May and Trump share a view that pundits and polls have gotten it wrong — true enough in both cases — but, beyond that, they'll both be defined by their nations' chemistry, rather than by policy.

 

Pamela Falk is a CBS News TV & Radio Foreign Affairs analyst and the former staff director of a House of Representatives subcommittee. She holds a J.D. from Columbia School of Law. She can be reached at @PamelaFalk.


 

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.