President Donald Trump said the U.S. and U.K. "are very much joined at the hip" as he sat down with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
"We're on the same wavelength in I think every respect," said Trump, trying to dispel the perception that his relationship with May is strained.
It was Trump's first meeting of a trip aimed at touting his economic agenda and luring foreign investment to the U.S.
Trump arrived in Zurich ahead of schedule and immediately boarded a U.S. helicopter for the flight to Davos, where the World Economic Forum is being held. The approximately 40-minute trip took Trump over a snowy countryside dotted with houses, frosted mountains and a glistening lake. As Trump got off the helicopter in Davos, he gestured to aides who held him by the arms as he walked across the snowy landing zone to his waiting car.
"We're very happy to be here," Trump said as he arrived. "The United States is doing very well, and will continue to do well and this will be a very exciting two days."
He said he was bringing a message of "peace and prosperity" to the gathering of world leaders, business executives and celebrities.
While the president is expected to declare that the United States is open for business, the protectionist-leaning president's attendance at the annual gathering for free-trade-loving political and business elites has raised eyebrows. His decision to sign new tariffs boosting American manufacturers this week has prompted fresh concerns about his nationalist tendencies.
"I'm going to Davos right now to get people to invest in the United States," Trump said Wednesday before the overnight flight to Europe. "I'm going to say: 'Come into the United States. You have plenty of money.' But I don't think I have to go, because they're coming, they're coming at a very fast clip."
Trump also seemed eager to dispel concerns about his global leadership.
During his meeting with May, Trump said the two leaders have a "really great relationship, although some people don't necessarily believe that." He said it was a "false rumour" that the relationship was strained and that he wanted to "correct it."
"We are very much joined at the hip when it comes to the military. We have the same ideas, the same ideals, and there's nothing that would happen to you that we won't be there to fight for you," he told May. "You know that."
Trump hosted May at the White House days after he took office. But he recently cancelled a planned trip to London to celebrate the opening of the new U.S. embassy. And last year, Trump and May traded criticism over his retweets of a far-right group's anti-Muslim videos.
Britain is eager to strike a free trade deal with the U.S. after it leaves the EU in 2019. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that U.S. is ready to negotiate an "attractive" trade deal with Britain once the country has left the European Union.
Trump's "America First" agenda and aversion to multilateral trade agreements would seem at odds with a global summit that stresses free trade and international co-operation.
But U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin got to Davos ahead of Trump and insisted Wednesday that the United States supports free trade.
"America First' does mean working with the rest of the world," said Mnuchin, who is leading the largest U.S. delegation ever to attend the exclusive gathering. "It just means that President Trump is looking out for American workers and American interests, no different than he expects other leaders would look out for their own."
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross argued that new U.S. tariffs on imported solar-energy components and large washing machines are meant to deal with "inappropriate behaviour" by other countries and are not protectionist. Still, Ross conceded that China could respond by imposing its own tariffs on U.S. products.
As he signed the tariffs, Trump said he was heading to Davos to talk "about investing in the United States again."
The president is set to address the forum Friday. He is expected to showcase the booming U.S. economy and measures like his recent tax overhaul, claiming that a thriving America benefits the world. A vocal critic of trade deals he sees as unfair to the United States, Trump will also stress the need for what he sees as fair competition.
During his two-day stop, the president will attend a reception in his honour, host European executives for dinner and meet with world leaders. Trump will be meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Swiss President Alain Berset and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
The meeting with Kagame comes not long after participants in a White House meeting said Trump had referred to African nations as "shitholes." Trump also was criticized in Britain for retweeting videos from a far-right British group. He also criticized London Mayor Sadiq Khan following a terror attack last year.
Trump cancelled plans for a recent trip to London to open the new $1 billion U.S. embassy there, a move that avoided protests promised by political opponents. The president said he skipped the trip because he was unhappy with the new embassy's cost and location.
Trump concluded 2017 with the passage of a major tax overhaul, a key policy achievement. But the first few weeks of 2018 have been defined by political battles over government spending, Trump's incendiary Twitter feed and explosive revelations in a new book that portrays Trump as an unstable leader. A brief government shutdown threatened to derail the Davos trip altogether.
The president has criticized global pacts, withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership on trade, demanding changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement and announcing his intent to exit the Paris climate accord.
In the lead-up to Trump's arrival, other leaders at the meeting have argued against any drift toward protectionism in the global economy. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said new barriers to trade could pose a danger on a par with climate change and extremist attacks. And Canada's Justin Trudeau revealed that his country and the 10 remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership have revised their trade deal following the U.S. withdrawal.
This year's forum theme is "Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World." Panel topics include "The Global Impact of America First," "A Society Divided," "Post-Establishment Politics?" and "The Weaponization of Culture."
Stephen Moore, a fellow at the conservative-oriented Heritage Foundation who advised the Trump campaign, said he initially had reservations about Trump going, saying, "those are people who have been completely wrong on the economy for 20 years."
But he added, "The more I thought about it, I thought maybe there is some benefit to going because he can lecture these people."