CHEQUERS (Britain) • British Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Donald Trump worked yesterday to repair the damage after she was left with a deepening political crisis and a diplomatic embarrassment by a bombshell interview with The Sun published yesterday.
Mr Trump said he looked forward to finalising a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, striking a contrasting tone to the newspaper interview in which he said Mrs May's strategy would kill such an agreement.
"We want to trade with the UK, and the UK wants to trade with us," Mr Trump said at a press conference with Mrs May in the garden of her official country residence, Chequers. "The United States looks forward to finalising a great bilateral trade agreement with the United Kingdom. This is an incredible opportunity for our two countries, and we will seize it fully."
Asked about the interview, Mr Trump said he did not criticise the Prime Minister, and he had a lot of respect for her. "Unfortunately, there was a story that was done which was generally fine, but it didn't put in what I said about the Prime Minister, and I said a tremendous thing. We record when we deal with reporters - it is called fake news," he said. He did not elaborate.
With the "special relationship" thrown into doubt by the interview, Mr Trump said ties between the two were at the "highest level of special", and said "this incredible woman right here is doing a fantastic job".
"Once the Brexit process is concluded and perhaps the UK has left the EU, I don't know what they are going to do, but whatever you do is okay with me, that is your decision," Mr Trump said.
Mrs May likewise glossed over the comments in The Sun. She accentuated the positive, saying that "no two countries do more together than ours to keep their people safe and prosperous", and gave no hint of anger about the interview that seriously undermined her.
"We agreed today that as the UK leaves the European Union, we will pursue an ambitious US-UK free trade agreement," she said.
"The Chequers agreement reached last week provides the platform for Donald and me to pursue an ambitious deal that works for both countries right across our economies," she added.
Mrs May said at the press conference that Britain and the US have agreed that Russia should be engaged with "strength and unity".
Mr Trump will head to Helsinki on Monday for meetings with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and he said he would raise the question of election meddling, but he also seemed to suggest that there would be little to learn.
Mr Trump caused turmoil at a Nato summit a day earlier, complaining about the military spending commitments of alliance members, and he specifically cited Mrs May's support in that area yesterday. "The Prime Minister was right there with me," he said.
Elaborating on the two leaders' discussions on Iran and North Korea, Mr Trump said: "We discussed a range of priorities, including stopping nuclear proliferation. I thanked (Mrs May) for her partnership in our pursuit of a nuclear-free North Korea. We both agreed that Iran must never possess a nuclear weapon."
As they spoke, thousands of protesters marched against Mr Trump through Central London, one of more than 100 demonstrations planned against the President during his four-day visit.
"#DumpTrump", "This is the carnival of resistance" and "My mum doesn't like you! And she likes everyone", read some of the signs held up by protesters as they marched down Oxford Street towards Trafalgar Square.
"No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!", the protesters chanted.
Some protesters banged on pots and pans, others blew on trumpets and many held up orange "Stop Trump" balloons.
Campaigners elsewhere in London flew a "Baby Trump" balloon, an act of protest approved by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, which has proved particularly contentious for Mr Trump and his supporters.
While Mr Trump's trip was not a full state visit, he has been given red-carpet treatment and was scheduled to have tea later in the day with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG