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President Donald Trump barreled into London like a bowling ball on his first trip to Britain as president last year, testing the special relationship by criticizing then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to Brexit in the pages of The Sun before his visit while praising her political rival at the time, Boris Johnson.
Trump is heading to London again next week, this time for a NATO summit marking the alliance’s 70th anniversary. May is long gone from Downing Street. Johnson, still a favorite of the president, is prime minister and facing his own unpredictable election a little over a week after the NATO gathering Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Friday, senior administration officials said the visit will include one-on-one meetings with President Emmanuel Macron of France, who recently warned about the “brain death” of NATO and suggested that Europe can no longer assume unwavering support from the United States. Trump will also meet with Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, and attend a reception at Buckingham Palace hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Conspicuous for his absence from the list was Johnson. It is unusual for the president not to participate in a bilateral meeting with the leader of NATO’s host country. While the president’s schedule was still in flux, one official said the reason for not scheduling a meeting was that Trump was “very conscious of the fact that we do not interfere” in other country’s elections.
The official also noted that Trump “likes Prime Minister Johnson personally.”
It went unspoken by the White House that Johnson has been desperate to keep Trump at a distance in an election where the U.S. president is now seen as radioactive to many of his supporters. “What we don’t do traditionally as loving allies and friends, what we don’t do traditionally, is get involved in each other’s election campaigns,” Johnson said in a radio interview last week.
Whether Trump is able to heed the “stay away” signals Johnson has been waving in his face remains to be seen.
If he does, it would mark a big departure from his style on previous visits. Trump’s interview with The Sun defined his awkward trip last year to Britain, where he was forced to dismiss his own recorded interview as “fake news” while standing next to May at a news conference.
The White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said Friday there were currently “no plans” for a follow-up interview with The Sun, a tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch.
But Trump has a history of making life difficult for foreign leaders hosting him abroad. In May, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan rolled out the red carpet for him during a state visit, Trump seemed to undermine all of the pomp and circumstance by downplaying concerns about North Korea’s tests of short-range ballistic missiles, even as Abe called them a violation of United Nations resolutions.
During his two days in London next week, Trump is scheduled to participate in a working lunch with representatives of Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Britain. He also has meetings scheduled with the prime minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, whom he clashed with over his interest in potentially purchasing Greenland, and the prime minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte.
“We have a good story to tell,” Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary, said in an interview, noting that European allies have stepped up their financial commitments to the organization. Stoltenberg said he also expected the leaders to address China as a new challenge to NATO.
“NATO has been focused on Soviet Union, Russia, then terrorism,” Stoltenberg said. “Now we also need to understand and address the consequences of shifting global balance of power and the rise of China.”
Senior administration officials also described the anniversary gathering as a “celebratory leaders meeting” and said that Trump was “greatly looking forward to it.”