Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump plans to meet Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week, the White House said Friday.
The announcement came after Trump cancelled a planned trip to London, casting further doubt on the strength of the vaunted trans-Atlantic “special relationship.”
“President Trump looks forward to having a bilateral meeting with UK Prime Minister May in Davos next week to further strengthen the US–UK special relationship,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
A Downing Street spokesman confirmed that the pair would meet on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alpine resort.
May was the first world leader to visit Trump at the White House after his inauguration last year and brought with her an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II for a state visit.
Since then, however, ties have become strained and thousands of Britons have taken to social media to promise large-scale street protests if the visit goes ahead.
The latest blow to ties came on January 11 when Trump confirmed in a tweet that he had “cancelled” a visit to London during which he had been expected to open the new US embassy.
Instead, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will on Monday head to London to visit the embassy and hold talks with his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Tillerson will also visit Paris before joining Trump later in the week in Davos, which is hosting its annual policy forum for the global business elite.
A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that Tillerson would use his visit to London “to reaffirm the US-UK special relationship.”
“My understanding is that he will make a visit to the mission,” the official said.
“I don’t think that there is a ribbon-cutting or any sort of ceremony planned, in part because the facilities are still in the final phase of construction,” he said.
“I think there’s still quite a lot of pieces and debris in the lobby and elsewhere and it’s really not the moment for a ribbon-cutting, but he is visiting the new embassy.”
– ‘Bad deal’ –
The US embassy’s move from Grosvenor Square in the West End of London near the British Government’s Whitehall headquarters to Nine Elms, on the south bank of the Thames, had been planned for 10 years.
But Trump suddenly came out against the idea earlier this month in one of his trademark angry tweets — accusing his predecessor of having overspent on an unnecessary project.
“Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars,” he tweeted.
“Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!”
But the outburst was widely interpreted as an excuse from a sensitive president fearful that his visit would trigger an embarrassing public rejection from the British public.
Trump, while a supporter of those campaigning to bring Britain out of the European Union, has offended many other Britons with what they see as his divisive rhetoric.
The president has repeatedly sparred with London’s Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, and other British officials on Twitter, accusing them of downplaying the threat of “radical Islamic terror.”
And in November last year, he won a rebuke from May herself when he retweeted three propaganda videos promoted by the far-right racist movement Britain First.
But, despite the tensions, British leaders remain very keen to preserve trans-Atlantic ties, particularly so that their impending “Brexit” from Europe will not leave them isolated.