January 25, 2017

CNAS Press Note: President Trump and Prime Minister May’s Meeting

By Julianne Smith, and Rachel Rizzo

With President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May set to meet Friday for President Trump’s first official meeting with a foreign head of government, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Strategy and Statecraft Program Director Julianne Smith and Research Associate Rachel Rizzo have written a new Press Note, “President Trump and Prime Minister May’s Meeting.”

The full Press Note is below:

On Friday, January 27, British Prime Minister Theresa May will visit Washington, DC to meet with newly-minted U.S. President Donald Trump. This is the president’s first meeting with a head of state since his inauguration on January 20th. The visit will attract a considerable amount of attention as the world seeks additional clues about the president’s substantive agenda. Both Trump and May will come to the table with a set of objectives. The question is whether those lists will overlap or conflict.

Prime Minister May has experienced a tough regional political climate since the Brexit vote on June 23rd. She has not only gone head-to-head with leaders of the EU regarding the future Brexit terms the UK will seek, but she has had trouble on the home front, especially with this week’s Supreme Court ruling that Parliament must give the go-ahead before the UK government can declare Article 50. In short, May needs a win during her trip to the United States. She cannot simply visit Washington and return to the UK saying it was a productive meeting. She will no doubt want to discuss potential trade deals with the United States, although those are largely dependent upon the future trade relationship that the UK works out with the EU post-Brexit. She will also want to hear more about Trump’s plans on Russia, whether a grand bargain of some kind is on the table and where Europe fits in all of that. Perhaps most importantly, she will want Trump to reaffirm his commitment to the “Special Relationship,” particularly in the wake of Brexit. But she will also want to ask him about NATO and whether the UK’s new investments in the Baltic States will continue to be supported (and appreciated) by the Trump administration.

Trump will also have specific goals for the meeting. First and foremost, he will want to use this opportunity to burnish his credentials as a world leader. In terms of substance, Trump will want to talk to May about trade to see how fast the two countries can move forward on a common agenda. He may be surprised to hear, though, about some of the limits on how far they can take that conversation given the fact that the UK hasn’t even invoked Article 50 yet. Trump will also want to see what more the UK and the United States can do to combat radical Islamic extremism and might be surprised to hear all that the UK is already doing in that regard. And he will likely ask for her assistance in increasing the pressure on NATO allies to spend more on defense. Finally, Trump believes he and May will find a lot of common cause in their anti-EU views but he will soon learn that doesn’t necessarily mean May wants the overarching European project to fail.

Smith and Rizzo are available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or 202-457-9409.

  • Julianne Smith

    Senior Fellow and Director, Transatlantic Security Program

    Julianne (“Julie”) Smith is Senior Fellow and Director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. She is a contributing editor to Fo...

  • Rachel Rizzo

    Research Associate, Transatlantic Security Program

    Rachel Rizzo is the Research Associate for the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Her work focuses on NATO, Europe, and transatla...