5 things to watch in Trump's meeting with British prime minister

President Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May will take their first step toward establishing stronger economic and strategic ties during a Friday meeting at the White House.  

The two leaders will discuss pressing global issues including free trade between their countries, the role of NATO and the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

The meeting is Trump’s first sit-down with a major world leader since taking office. 

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May, who addressed congressional Republicans during their retreat in Philadelphia on Thursday, has vowed to have “very frank” discussions with the new president during her visit to Washington.

Trump and May are set to hold a joint press conference after their discussions around 1 p.m. 

Here are a few points they are likely to address:

U.S.-U.K. trade deal

Trump has said that he wants a trade agreement between the United States and Britain “very quickly,” and May has expressed a similar eagerness to forge a deal. 

But the United Kingdom must complete negotiations to leave the European Union before it can sign any new trade agreements. That process is expected to begin in March and could take upward of two years to complete. 

The U.S. and the U.K. can hold discussions and lay the groundwork parallel to the Brexit process so they are prepared to move quickly.

May has said in recent days that she wants the relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU to remain strong. 

“I’m confident we can look at areas even in advance of being able to sign a formal trade deal,” she said, according to media reports.

The future of NATO

The long-standing alliance is a top priority for May, who is expected to challenge Trump over his lack of support for the 28-member treaty. 

Trump sent mixed messages in a recent interview with two European publications — The Times of London and Bild, a German newspaper — calling NATO  “obsolete” while at the same time saying the alliance “is very important to me.” 

The president has criticized members for failing to pay their bills and leaving the United States holding the check. 

But newly confirmed Secretary of Defense James Mattis pledged during his confirmation hearing to “maintain the strongest possible relationship with NATO.”

NATO leaders will meet for a major summit in Belgium this summer. Whether Trump will choose to attend remains to be seen, but his decision either way will send a strong message throughout the world.  

For her part, May argues that NATO must “evolve to be able to effectively counter the biggest threats of the day, in particular terrorism and cyberattacks.”

So expect the British prime minister to not only try to clear up any confusion about where Trump stands but to work to win his support for keeping NATO running at full speed. 

During her remarks to congressional Republicans, May said, “America’s leadership role in NATO, supported by Britain, must be the central element around which the alliance is built.” 

The battle against terrorism 

Trump made defeating the ISIS and fighting terrorism a central tenet of his campaign. 

May told congressional Republicans on Thursday that she joins the U.S. in its “determination to take on and defeat Daesh and the ideology of Islamic extremism that inspires them and many other terrorist groups in the world today,” using another name for ISIS.

“It is in both our national interests to do so.” 

She said it would require intelligence gathering and “military might” to defeat ISIS. 

“But it also demands a wider effort because one of the lessons of fighting terrorism in the last 15 years or so is that yes, killing terrorists can save innocent lives, but until we kill the idea that drives them, the ideology, we will always have to live with this threat.” 

In that vein, May is expected to challenge Trump over his widely condemned remarks that the U.S. would consider renewing the use of torture to gather intelligence.

During her trip to the U.S., May told reporters: "We condemn torture and my view on that won't change, whether I am talking to you or talking to the president." 

Top congressional lawmakers have said that they don’t support the legalization of waterboarding or other methods.

Conflict in Syria

May said that defeating ISIS hinges on a “secure a political solution in Syria and challenging the alliance between the Syrian regime and its backers in Tehran.” 

“We must employ all of the diplomatic means at our disposal,” May told Republican lawmakers. 

But the situation in Syria, and the two countries’ approach, is in flux.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Thursday that Syrian leader Bashar Assad could remain in power if a peace accord is reached, a big shift from the previous demand that he step down.

And Trump has signaled a willingness to work more closely with Russia, which is backing Assad’s regime. 

Johnson said the U.K. needs to get a clearer picture on where the U.S. stands. 

“We need to understand exactly where the White House is coming from,” Johnson said on the eve of the Trump-May meeting. “We need to understand how they see the end game here and we need to help shape that conversation.”  

Trump is suspending new visas for Syrians and asking the Pentagon and State Department to craft a plan for setting up safe zones for civilians inside war-torn Syria, a move that Russian officials on Thursday said should be thoroughly evaluated. 

The Obama administration previously had ruled out the move.  

Relations with Russia

Trump has spoken warmly about Russian President Vladimir Putin, a position that has created unease in the U.S. and around the world.  

The new president has said he hopes to make a deal with Putin to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles that would ease tensions and lead to the lifting of economic sanctions against Moscow. 

But May warned on Thursday that when it comes to Russia and talks with Putin, her advice is to “engage but beware.” 

“There is nothing inevitable about conflict between Russia and the West,” she told lawmakers. “And nothing unavoidable about retreating to the days of the Cold War.”

"But we should engage with Russia from a position of strength. And we should build the relationships, systems and processes that make cooperation more likely than conflict — and that, particularly after the illegal annexation of Crimea, give assurance to Russia’s neighboring states that their security is not in question,” she said.