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The U.S. And U.K.'s 'Special Relationship,' Now


President Trump now heads to Britain after a confrontational appearance at the NATO summit in Brussels. He arrives at a difficult time for Prime Minister Theresa May's government. She's had trouble getting her Conservative Party to agree on her approach for the U.K.'s exit from the European Union. Her proposal prompted three members of her government to resign in recent days. Our next guest will be watching President Trump's visit very carefully. David Miliband served as foreign secretary in a previous Labour Party government.

Welcome to the program, sir.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you. Good morning.

KING: All right. So President Trump just gave an unscheduled news conference by way of closing out his appearance at the NATO summit. What did you think about his statements in that news conference?

MILIBAND: I think the most striking thing is the president's threat to, quote, unquote, "go it alone" because for 70 years, American presidents have talked about the unshakable alliance of the nations of the free world tackling the world's problems, as well as promoting our own peace and prosperity. That's been a uniquely successful period for - across the Atlantic, really, for the United States, as well as for European countries. And so I think it's sending shock waves across Europe to have successive, not just rhetoric but also actions that were in the midst of trade hostilities, if not a trade war. The threats in respect of the NATO alliance are deeply shaking American - European understanding of American attitudes.

KING: Let's pivot to Britain. President Trump and Prime Minister May came to power around the same time. They were both known for hard-line stances on immigration. What is the relationship between these two now?

MILIBAND: Well, I think that the personal relationship is perfectly good. I don't think that's the issue. President Trump said over the weekend that the U.K. was suffering turmoil, and in this, I think he's quite accurate. The U.K. was sold a prospectus for leaving the European Union by the president's friend, Boris Johnson, amongst others, in the referendum campaign 2016. And today, we are coming to terms with the conclusions of the negotiations, and they're not matching up to the land of milk and honey that was promised by those who were promoting Brexit. And that's the essence of the turmoil that Mrs. May is trying to deal with.

KING: As Prime Minister May is negotiating Britain's exit from the EU, she's trying to arrange or hoping to arrange a trade deal with the U.S. to mitigate some of the economic impact of Brexit. What does she want, and what is on line for Britain there?

MILIBAND: Well, here's the ultimate irony of those who are arguing for Brexit. The European Union accounts for about half of Britain's exports - the U.S., a much smaller proportion. And it's been held out by the Brexiteers that the United States might offer an alternative source of trading relationship to the European Union. At the same time, President Trump is taking a very hawkish attitude towards global trade. He's obviously in the midst of what is, in essence, a trade war with China, and he's got trade hostilities with the European Union. And I think Brits are looking at the demands that he's making on others. I'm wondering whether, in fact, the offer of a U.S.-U.K. trade deal separate from the wider global environment is really possible at all.

KING: Presidents Trump (ph) visit is also, we are expecting - to spark these big street protests. Do you expect Prime Minister May to raise any of the concerns that protesters are sort of out in the streets about, like the separation of migrant children and parents in the southern border of the U.S.?

MILIBAND: I think that Theresa May and the British government will not be focused on U.S. politics. They'll be focused on global politics. The U.K. has been subject to a recent attack of germ warfare by Russia. Already, one person's died, and she'll be asking President Trump to raise that with President Putin.

KING: You think she will.

MILIBAND: She'll definitely be raising the Russia issue because for Europeans, Russia is an aggressive power. It's conducted germ warfare against the U.K., cyberwarfare against Estonia. It's invaded Ukraine and Georgia. And so I think that the president's move to Russia after his U.K. visit will be pivotal because the global environment is one in which most Europeans believe that the transatlantic relationship needs to be strengthened, not weakened. And they fear that any sign of weakness is an encouragement to President Putin.

KING: David Miliband is president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. He served as Britain's top diplomat under Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Thank you, sir.

MILIBAND: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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