Trump and EU chiefs meet but don't see eye to eye

(Front row, from left) Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, US President Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May standing in line for a group photo at the start of the Nato summit in Brussels yeste
(Front row, from left) Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, US President Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May standing in line for a group photo at the start of the Nato summit in Brussels yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Leaders agree on counter-terrorism but at odds over trade, climate change and Russia

BRUSSELS • A smiling Donald Trump offered European Union chiefs assurances on security yesterday but EU officials did not conceal lingering differences with the US President over Russia, trade and climate change.

In talks before a summit of Nato leaders at the Atlantic military alliance's headquarters across town, an EU source highlighted that Mr Trump had voiced fears that Brexit could cost US jobs - a possible sign of second thoughts on support for the British vote to leave the bloc.

And Mr Trump agreed to the setting up of a joint EU-US "action plan" on trade - an indication that he is not as set on shunning free trade deals and promoting protectionism as some in Europe feared he might be.

Nonetheless, European Council President Donald Tusk indicated that there was something less than a meeting of minds on trade and other issues - despite the cordiality of Mr Trump's welcome at the new EU building which the former Polish premier informed him was popularly known as "Tusk Tower", in a nod to Mr Trump's signature New York headquarters.

"We agreed on many areas, first and foremost on counter-terrorism," Mr Tusk said after he and EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker met Mr Trump for over an hour. "But some issues remain open, like climate and trade."

At the Nato headquarters later, Mr Trump lauded Nato for promoting global safety but said 23 member nations owe "massive amounts of money" to US taxpayers and must contribute their fair share.

European leaders have been urging Mr Trump not to abandon the US commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions made when his predecessor, Mr Barack Obama, signed the United Nations Paris accord.

Mr Tusk also said he did not feel he and Mr Trump were on the same page in terms of dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A spokesman for Mr Juncker, president of the European Commission, which had been negotiating a free trade deal with Washington known as the TTIP before Mr Trump's upset election victory, said the two sides would work to increase trade.

"It was agreed to start work on a joint action plan on trade," said the spokesman. It was not immediately clear if that might include reviving work on the TTIP.

Mr Trump has made clear his dislike of multilateral trade agreements, pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Asian states.

But European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have suggested he is warming to trade talks with the EU, which unifies trade rules for all 28 states.

Mr Trump irritated EU leaders during his campaign last year by hailing Brexit and suggesting other countries might follow suit. However, EU officials believe that since taking office, he has come to appreciate the value of European integration to US interests.

US businesses have taken advantage of its single market to reduce the costs of exporting to Europe. An EU source said Mr Trump told Mr Tusk and Mr Juncker he feared that Americans might lose jobs as a result of Britain leaving the EU in 2019. He "expressed concern that jobs in the US would be lost because of Brexit", the source said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2017, with the headline 'Trump and EU chiefs meet but don't see eye to eye'. Print Edition | Subscribe