May urges Trump to stand by Nato, beware Putin
British leader Theresa May defended Nato and criticised Russia in a speech in the US, while courting Donald Trump for closer ties.
May described Nato as “the cornerstone of the West's defence” and as part of a wider, rules-based world order that the US and the UK had helped to build after World War II.
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“We must turn towards those multinational institutions like the UN and Nato that encourage international cooperation and partnership,” she said.
Speaking at a Republican Party symposium in Philadelphia, she noted that Nato was deploying a new Russia-deterrent force in the Baltic region.
“Whether it is the security of Israel in the Middle East or the Baltic states in eastern Europe, we must always stand up for our friends and allies”, she said.
She advised US president Donald Trump to “engage but beware” of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“We should engage with Russia from a position of strength”, she said.
“We should not jeopardise the freedoms that president Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher brought to eastern Europe by accepting president Putin's claim that it is now in his sphere of influence”, she added, invoking the names of US and British leaders from the Cold War era.
May, the first foreign head to visit the US after Trump’s election, is to hold official talks with him in Washington on Friday.
Trump, who also spoke in Philadelphia, focused on his plan to build a wall on the Mexican border and joked about a post-Brexit US-UK trade treaty.
“I’m meeting with the prime minister tomorrow, as you know, Great Britain. So I'm meeting with her tomorrow. I don't have my commerce secretary. They want to talk trade, so I’ll have to handle it myself, which is OK,” he said.
May’s speech comes after Trump, in earlier remarks, attacked Nato and the EU and said he might endorse Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
He also said he would put “America first” in his trade and foreign policy.
The British leader on Thursday acknowledged some of Trump’s Nato criticism.
She said European countries should increase defence spending to reduce the burden on the US. “Countries cannot outsource their security … to America and they should not undermine the alliances that keep us strong by failing to step up”, she said.
She said “if the countries of the European Union wish to integrate further, my view is that they should be free to do so”.
But she said the UK was preparing for a hard exit from the EU, in order to “take back control” of immigration and to “restore our parliamentary sovereignty”.
Great victory, new age
She said the UK and US should upgrade relations in what she called a “new age” in world affairs.
She said that a UK-US trade treaty would “see us taking that next step in the special relationship that exists between us.”
Trump has also drawn criticism for his anti-Muslim remarks, climate change scepticism, and for his endorsement of torture by US security services.
May told British media on the flight to Philadelphia that her views on the illegitimacy of torture “won't change - whether I am talking to you or talking to the president”.
She said in her speech that the “peaceful religion of Islam” was different from the “hateful ideology” of jihadism, but she declined to confront Trump on values, while praising his “great victory” in the US elections and his vision of a “new era of American renewal”.
Her approach to Trump is different from France and Germany, who have raised the alarm on his threats to Western solidarity.
British experts also fear that May might go along with Trump in future even if he splits from EU policy on Russia or the Middle East.
“If America eases up on Russia, Britain will be under heavy pressure to pick the United States, not to side with [German chancellor] Merkel,” Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House, a London-based think tank, told the New York Times.
“The UK, which traditionally sees itself as upholding the spine of Europe toward Russia, is pulling itself out of that role,” he said.
Back in London, Brexit came one step closer to reality on Thursday with the publication of a “European Union Notification of Withdrawal Bill.”
The legal act empowers May to formally notify Brussels of “the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU”.
Explanatory notes attached to the brief text also say Britain will quit Euratom, a separate legal entity from the EU, that governs cooperation between Europe’s nuclear industries, the Financial Times newspaper reported.
The bill is expected to fly through the lower house of parliament, where May has a 16-seat majority, by early February.
It is designed to be enacted by the end of March, but could face delays in the more EU-friendly House of Lords.