Whirlwind Trump visit sends relations reeling

Stare: Trump told May to sue the EU rather than negotiate Brexit — advice she declined. © Getty

Is the special relationship over? Today, Donald Trump will meet face-to-face with Vladimir Putin after a rocky visit to the UK. Some see signs that Britain cannot rely on its old ally.

“I would give our relationship with the UK the highest level of special,” declared President Donald Trump during a tumultuous four-day visit to Britain. As he departed yesterday, many were left feeling that the message rang hollow.

For one thing, these words only came after The Sun published an incendiary interview in which Trump slammed Theresa May’s Brexit plan, saying it would “probably kill” any US trade deal. He also claimed her rival, Boris Johnson, would “make a great prime minister”.

The extraordinary comments broke just as May was hosting a black-tie banquet for Trump at Blenheim Palace.

Trump later rowed back from the interview, labelling the piece “fake news”; lauding May an “incredible woman”; and declaring a US-UK trade deal “absolutely possible”.

Whether a deal will become a reality remains to be seen. In an interview given to British journalist Piers Morgan, Trump emphasised competition over collaboration: “we are putting America first but you have to put your country first,” he said, adding, “I’m saying that now so that when I go into negotiations with you people, I’m going to try and top you.”

Trump’s “America First” agenda has caused rifts with long-standing allies. Last week he threatened NATO leaders that the US would “go it alone” unless they increased their military funding.

And the last stop of his European tour could be just as controversial: today, Trump is meeting with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.

The timing could hardly be more provocative. Days ago, 12 Russian agents were indicted for meddling in the 2016 election. And last week, British citizen Dawn Sturgess died after being poisoned by a Novichok nerve agent — an innocent bystander in an attack the UK blames on Russia.

Despite this, Trump often avoids criticising the Russian president, and is keen to establish closer ties: “I think I’d have a very good relationship with President Putin if we spend time together,” he said on Friday.

Is this the end for America and Britain’s special relationship?

Friendly Fire

Of course, some argue. Trump’s “America First” doctrine means exactly that — the UK should not expect special treatment. This is part of a wider pattern too. From NATO to the UN, Trump has contempt for organisations designed to bring nations together. His view of the world is every nation for itself — we should get used to it.

Not necessarily, others respond. May and Trump have both committed to strengthening their ties. Furthermore, relations between the US and Britain are deeper than the actions of one president. Language, commerce, democracy, culture — the special relationship persists in the ideals and practical links the two nations share.

You Decide

  1. Should Trump have been invited to Britain?
  2. Is it right for Trump to have a summit with Putin?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are a reporter sent to cover the Trump-Putin summit. You can ask each leader one question. What would you ask them and why?
  2. Do some research into the “special relationship” between the US and Britain. Watch the second video under Become An Expert to start you off. Consider this statement: “There is no such thing as a special relationship — the US and Britain have always acted in pure self interest.” Write 100 words explaining why you agree or disagree with this statement.

Some People Say...

“Diplomacy is not an end in itself if it does not advance US interests.”

John Bolton (Trump’s National Security Adviser)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will take place in Helsinki, Finland’s capital. It will be the first time that Putin and Trump have formally met on a one-to-one basis. However, they met previously at the G7 summit in Hamburg and at a leaders’ summit in Vietnam. Theresa May claimed that she “welcomed” the meeting, with reports that she urged Trump to raise the issue of nerve agent poisonings to Putin.
What do we not know?
Precisely what Trump and Putin will discuss during their meeting. Yesterday Trump claimed that he had “low expectations” for the summit. We do not know the true extent of Russia’s meddling in the US election, nor do we know if Russia was behind the nerve agent attack in the UK.

Word Watch

Special
“Special relationship” is an unofficial term used to describe diplomatic relations between America and Britain. The term was popularised after Winston Churchill used it in a speech in 1946.
Blenheim Palace
The birthplace of Winston Churchill.
Piers Morgan
A controversial British journalist and television host.
NATO
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. NATO was established in 1949 and is currently made up of 29 Western nations. If one member state is attacked, all others are required to come to its assistance. The US is its greatest military power.
Meddling
Charges specifically relate to the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election. It is alleged that the 12 Russians stole and leaked emails as part of a Russian government effort to interfere with the election.
Bystander
In March, Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by a nerve agent in an attack allegedly carried out by Russian agents. Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley were poisoned four months later after accidentally handling the poison.

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