28/01/2017 Dateline London

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Foreign correspondents currently posted to London look at events in the UK through outsiders' eyes, and at how the issues of the week are being tackled around the world.

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Hello and welcome to Dateline London.


How "special" is Britain's so-called "special relationship"


And how wise is it for a British prime minister to try to get close


to an American president - and end up with a picture


My guests today are: Alex Deane who is a conservative commentator,


Agnes Poirier of France's Marianne, Mustapha Karkouti of Gulf News and


Jef McAllister, an American writer and broadcaster


A British ambassador to Washington once told me -


as we awaited the first meeting between the then British


prime minister and a new American president -


that they were "fated to get on wonderfully well."


He meant that whatever the personal chemistry - or lack of it -


the totality of the relationship between the UK and US was so


But how well does that work with Theresa May and Donald Trump?


It seems to me the most interesting thing about it is that it took place


within the first few days? Yes, the first foreign head to be in to see


the American presence, I think the quote from your former ambassador


friend is right. These are two countries that need to work hard to


get on and I don't think there is any secret that we struggle somewhat


under President Obama who is not as well disposed to the British


interest as the now president seems to be. I suppose my point is this,


whether you agreed with Brexit or not, that is now the directional


travel that our country is on. President Obama and his preferred


successor Hillary Clinton set themselves Paul square against that


so even if you voted against Brexit and power and ardent Remainer, you


should now be happy, that we have a president who looks optimistic and


positively at the path that we are set on. You may dislike Donald Trump


or many other reasons and those reasons may be valid but on this it


is good fry country that it happened, and went the way that we


did. Do you see this as some British press sees it, as a danger that a


Prime Minister gets too close to an American president. It was said that


Tony Blair got too close to George Bush and that lead us into the mess


of Iraq? When I watch the press conference, I thought the Prime


Minister came out of that exceptionally well and if you think


about anyone who's policy positions changed, it was Trump, not May. One


week ago he was saying that Nato was obsolete, with encouragement of


Theresa May it is now 100% relevant and he supports it. And maybe


general Matias two. He said that he would step back, and support the


general 's position. In the same way that he seems to be rowing back on


torture as well. But he does seem to be bit double, and the other one is


Ukraine. Where Theresa made straight that our country and there is has a


significant position of difference and she didn't back down one bit.


What did you make of it? Well I wish I could share your enthusiasm, of


course he is the presidents of the United States, the used and nine it


and we had to work with the man. On the other hand as a friend Britain,


I felt, I was shivering, just seeing them holding hands which the British


media paid Seo much of it. It is on every single newspaper. It was a


temporary safety measure I believe, they were walking downstairs. He was


being polite. He was being polite but I just don't see Angela Merkel


being led the way that she is. I thought it was a bit embarrassing


for Britain. Also, that press conference, the FT said that there


was considerable warmth between the two. What I saw was considerable


awkwardness, she was walking on eggshells of course and she managed


to get him to say at least not on camera, that he was backing Nato


100% and that is a in itself, but otherwise, she was going there, Ray


few words from the president about the trade deal, but Article 50 has


not been triggered yet so she's not actually cable or starting at entry


negotiations. You can have talks of course but you didn't say anything


on that trade deal apart from Brexit was the most wonderful things. To


pick up on Alex's point, wasn't the most interesting thing about


yesterday that whatever one may say about Donald Trump and a lot has


been said all over the place about him, he appears to be pragmatic


enough to listen to people who actually know what they talk about.


If he listens to General Mattis four example is somebody with a long


career in defence, it is very clear that he doesn't think that torture


is a good idea. I know, but you can't actually ignore, the fact that


an American president says that personally, you think that torture


works. It is difficult to ignore. But you cannot ignore the fact that


he said even if he thinks that, he will defer to someone else. I


thought it was an interesting point. It is still to Moxon tip becomes a


dictatorship. What do you make of it? I think Theresa May left


Washington saying to herself, I cannot trust this man. I don't think


she will trust this man. Because he is a man who changes his mind every


day. And he is a loner in a way. When he stands up in the press


conference and says, look, I am rich, very, very rich. As if he says


I don't need this job and this money so I'm doing you a favour to be here


in this position. You cannot trust this man in a way. Yes of course he


said I'm with you 100% over Nato, but give him two or three months,


easy going to stick to his position? I doubt it. And I'm sure Theresa May


doubts it. That is interesting. You've seen lots of presidents at


the White House, it has been quite an extremely weak for Donald Trump?


For America? It is such a blizzard of things you can hardly even


remember how it began, the speech at the CIA where he is standing in


front of the wall of the fallen and uses it as a long talk about his own


wonderfulness. Where he says that the news media made up his


differences with intelligence agencies which was a lie. Two people


for whom not lying actually matters because that is their jobs, trying


to figure out things. And to say, that of course there was tremendous


voter fraud and that was the only reason why I didn't get the popular


vote. That was another lie and he said that to them. That was seven


days ago. A long week. And the executive order that was in favour


of torture, which has now been rescinded. But there is a law


against it anyway so the executive order is irrelevant and James Mattis


was against it. Theresa May, I think it is important for the president


and the Prime Minister tried to get on, yes, there is a little bit of


the supplicant trying to rush in but it's fine, this is an important


relationship. If it goes well for the US it is a force multiplier for


Britain, I would point to the relationship that Tony Blair and


George Bush had in the days after September the 11th when it actually


worked really well where Blair would go to Washington, he at the second


highest approval rating of any public figure in the United States


and he would come back to Europe and all of the European Prime Minister


's would line up to have dinner with him because they wanted to


understand what Bush was saying and he was kind of the ambassador. It


all went wrong when he became too supplicant three over Iraq and he


didn't pull back. So that is a danger, of being a Democrat in a


Conservative thing. I think the worrying thing about this visit, yes


it looks like a normal visit, but Trump is not a normal president. He


does not believe in the Liberal International order, he believes in


himself coming getting attention for himself. If you look at all of his


biographers, they say he has never had any friends. He doesn't have any


long-term friends, he discards his wise when they are not useful to


him. He doesn't believe in alliances and long-term building, he believes


in transactions and beating the other guy in a deal. Here we have


Britain that has given away its European home and is looking for


deals. Are you saying that these are two leaders that have got no mates?


The British don't get on with the European friends and Donald Trump


doesn't get on with anybody? But there is also a system in which they


used to operate. I think if Vladimir Putin now takes advantage of say,


lessening some sanctions, I don't think Trump is going to opposing


like Obama did. Meddling in the elections and doing things the last


of GDP concerning, I think this desire for Britain to be paying all


of this attention to trade deals within individual countries, and the


smallness of its ambitions it is going to feel like it is the wrong


choice but it is going to fit in with Trump's. The there is false


with what you say, I could agree -- disagree about what Trump was --


agree with Trump speaking front of the wall and it was crass. But I


disagree with you, in exception is with results. I'm not saying you


particularly but the left often says that the result we have had is so


bad that it transcends normal systems. When democracy sometimes


you get results that you don't like and each side has to live with that


result. But I'm so angry that this can't be normal, and therefore the


result is whether it be voting to leave the European Union will Donald


Trump the president must somehow be invalid. Li I don't think it is


invalid, I think it is worrisome and it creates risks, and risks of the


dissolution of the international order that has triggered peace and


security for so many years is a risk. Both playing as not


isolationists, it is I am best. I think it is a new world altogether,


a new political environment, I think everybody is trying to find his or


her place. Like Theresa May. How to deal with this man. It is a very


worrying thing to do, because listening to his speeches, the day


before, in Philadelphia, the mere fact that she was, repeating, the


fact, the two great nations historically, and reminding. Brew


wanting to lead together. The other point that I wanted to make, I'm


very interested in your country's politics, in the enzyme bridges


should because I'm most interested in how Britain fares. Our Prime


Minister didn't choose this hand, she neither voted to leave the


European Union nor did she have any say on Trump being president but


she's dealing with hands that she is being dealt and I'm very proud of


the way that she is conducting herself actually. One of the things


I have wanted to bring up, it has been many years since I have read


the art of the deal, Donald Trump says, or his ghost writer, says


something like you make a better deal when the person in front of you


is desperate to make a deal. That is the thing that I wonder about. Jeff


was talking about Tony Blair and Bush, Tony Blair missed a historical


opportunity at the time, because he did have leveraged over Bush and he


was close to him and he could have done something which he didn't do


and that was a historical mistake in many ways. He could have actually


just before the invasion, he would have been able to tell Bush look,


this was a mistake. Brew but he and colon Powell could have had a senior


conversation. But also he and Colin Powell could have had a senior


conversation. But Britain is very important on the chessboard and can


make a real difference, but what I so, yesterday in Washington, the


British Prime Minister who of course needs to do what she has to do but


she also, there was an element of desperation and she felt really sink


a frantic. I'm a Tory and I love blaming Tony Blair for anything, on


that one it is the job of the new Prime Minister to make sure that we


are close to our closest ally. I want to point out that some of the


bases, for the cooperation is intelligence and offence. Many


things that are part of this regardless of who the Prime Minister


is. But British spending on its own defence has decreased, the number of


aircraft carriers and planes on aircraft carriers, the number of


submarines, the size of the Army. Actually it is getting to the point


where Britain is not gain to be able to make the kind of contributions


should there be a gulf of land war. And I think that is important for


the future. Theresa May does not have as many cards in her hand. A


lot has been made in this side of the land sick about these executive


orders. I'm tempted to ask, so what? Didn't Obama signed an executive


order eight years ago this month. And whatever happened to that? What


I'm trying to get at is the totality of the relationships between Britain


and the United States also involves Theresa May talking to the


Republican party, that went down very well. It is not just about the


president, but whatever you say about all Trump, his freedom former


mover is more limited than people think. I think that is fair if you


look at the executive orders, they are mostly public relations, they


are intended to throw red meat to the base and signal a directional


travel but they are not legally valid because they contradict


legislation or because they are easily provoke a ball or because


there are conditions that haven't come to pass, or they say things


that are already law but people don't remember that Obama has


already done about immigration policy for instance. This is a


common tactic of new presidents, to issue a flurry of executive orders.


I think we have two get used to, Trump doesn't care as much about the


substance. Obama a constitutional law expert cares about doing the


right thing. What Trump always cares about his being at the centre of the


news and getting adulation for it and if it takes executive orders


that don't add up, or end up in the heap on the floor he doesn't care.


How is he viewed in the Middle East in particular on the guv, I was


talking to a golf specialist and they say do you know what, there is


a fair wind but I'm Trump in Gulf nations partly because he recognises


the threat as they see it from Iran and that is a big story in the Gulf?


That is true, I think it would please the Gulf. People in general.


Of his stance on Iran. If he does what he says, they will certainly be


relieved, no doubt about that. This is only one point. You need to think


of stability in the long term, in the entire region, not only,


assuming he launches a war if you like or attacks, hitting the nuclear


facilities or whatever. That is what talking about. Will it be limited to


that part only? Would it threaten the entire region itself? They are


worried, a lot more than Iran, about extremism, fundamentalism in the


region itself. It is proper either first priority as far as politics in


the region. Ease Trump prepared to do anything about that? He did say a


few things about Muslims just if you days ago yesterday.


And also his team started talking about building a database of Muslims


inside the US. And barring people from certain countries like Syria


where you are from. Exactly. And that made a person like Madeline


Albright threaten to convert to Islam if he does that. Is that a bit


of froth? I don't think it is froth, we should listen to people around


the world. On the other hand, he is far less interested in intervening


around the world, it will be not very interesting to liberal


interventionists but it would be much more agreeable to people who


don't want interventions from superpowers. On the other hand,


Balmer dropped hundreds of thousands of bombs, on Muslims, and was widely


regarded by the foreign affairs lobby as a hero. There is a


difference between these two things, would I find it more difficult to


find Davies in the United States will get a bomb dropped on me? Brew


Trump is stopping the drone programme and he will be doing the


same thing -- Trump is not stopping the drone programme. How do you know


that? Brew he hasn't told me, but it is essentially inevitable, that is


what the entire Establishment has been looking to do. And there are


not very alternatives if you want to be a tough guy and if you want to do


things from Washington. The danger is, let's say that he makes the deal


with Russia, sanctions gone in return for cooperation. The problem


with Russia as a ally against terrorism is, they have created a


lot of people from Chechnya who go to Syria because of the tactics they


have used. They kill eight times as many people in the bombing as


American strikes, and if you look at Trump's executive order banning


Muslims, it is from countries none of which sent any of the 911


bombers, the most it affects is Iran. As one Iranians foreign policy


official said, Americans have created more people going to Isis


than Iran has. They have two create this notion that you are actually


increasing radicalism if you team up with the Russians. Your point about


the orders and restricting travel is reasonable, the Ven diagram between


countries that have sent citizen between 911 and the countries who


are banned, do not overlap one bit. Saudi Arabia is of course the


largest single one. And I wanted to return to your Russia point, because


on the one hand as they showed in Syria, the Russians, brutal and


effective, RGB only on the narrow interpretation of what you think


should happen. The Americans and indeed the rest of us. Well meant


and well-intentioned and utterly ineffectual. You have got to pick


your preferred option. Doing peace with Russia, I think there are many


people who will look at that and would say that I would rather that


Russia got on better with United States. If you listen to Theresa May


before she talked to Trump, she was always -- already showing signs that


we should have a different attitude to Russia. Perhaps we will keep


sanctions on the Ukraine but there is room for improvement. This is


happening, if France with you is elected French President, he is for


the moment best placed to be the French president, -- Fillon. There


will be a complete the other side to French foreign policy. It will be a


new era of Franco Russian friendship. And indeed in other


countries in Europe, I think we are going there because we know, Obama


didn't do much. In the sense that, the US has retreated on the


international scene, and with Trump it is going to continue being


isolationist. So basically there is so much room in part of the world in


the Middle East for Russia to play its card and the one is going to


stop Vladimir Putin. So this is where, slowly we are slowly getting


there. Just to return to the torture point. It now seems to have been


shelved but one of the fundamental worries about that, apart from the


inhumanity of torture, is that if you torture one person, you may


create a thousand others who take the same view. It seems to be a very


headline grabbing way of saying something, to talk to his base but


something that will offend, not just many people but make many people


much more likely to be anti-American? I think that is


right, I think torture is always morally wrong, the question now is


whether it is effective or not is secondary. I also wonder to what


extent these are deliberate ploy is to demonstrate a toughness, that is


meant for your political audience rather than for your wider


international audience. I have no doubt that the signals from the


Trump campaign on that went down well with its domestic audience, and


if your primary aim is to get elected, if you remove morale at you


from the question, that is a sensible thing to do. Even if it


alienates people who are not American citizens outside your


country. One question I wonder about Jeff, is the question of Congress


and the Republicans in Congress, the Democrats are in a mess in various


ways but if you are a Republican in Congress facing the election in two


years which is the entire house of representatives, how close would you


be to Donald Trump. Would you say, I would better get very close because


he's the president and he this mandate. Or would you say, this


could come seriously unstuck? Brew so far all of the indications are


that the Republicans have made the bed I happily or not. However


bizarre his pronouncements or offensive about grabbing the private


parts of women. Saved just basically rolled over. The base, the people


that voted for them and that they are scared of, to unseat


Congressman, they cannot afford to get out of the way. Foreign policy,


it probably won't matter a lot, it is Obama care that is perhaps going


to matter. Obviously the Republicans are now showing concern, they have


said repeated so many times and now they are actually responsible for


its becoming Trump care. They lot of the initial proposals would end up


on insuring 20 million people who would have terrible sob stories, and


against them. Now they are starting to feel the pressure. But Trump to


who is not actually really a Republican, he is a deal-maker, will


be glad to come up with a compromise and I think there is room for him to


work with the Republicans. And all of this stuff about impeachment and


all of the horrible things that he is doing, all of these impossible


things that he keeps doing, they will not get in his way. Foreign


policy is what is worrying as far as the Middle East is concerned.


Because foreign policy is bottom of the list, no doubt about that. That


would give the Russians freedom to do whatever they want in the region.


In fact, they are now running the peace conference in Kazakhstan. And


they are the arbiter but they are also, the attackers at the same


time. That is how they are perceived in the region. That is it for


Dateline London for this extremely busy week, we are back the same time


next week, you can of course comment on Twitter. Goodbye.