LONDON - U.S. President Donald Trump began his London visit with a promise to stay out of Britain's general election, scheduled to be held on December 12.
“I have no thoughts on it, It’s going to be a very important election for this great country, but I have no thoughts on it,” Trump said Tuesday, speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after their bilateral meeting, as leaders of member nations gathered for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit.
But the U.S. president could not resist giving his opinion about the British prime minister, saying, “Boris is very capable and I think he’ll do a good job.”
In a recent interview, Johnson warned Trump against giving him an endorsement, saying it was best “for neither side to be involved in the other's election campaigns."
In October, Trump praised Johnson as "the exact right guy for the times" and said that the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn would be "so bad" as prime minister.
Donald Trump is trying to interfere in Britain’s election to get his friend Boris Johnson elected.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) October 31, 2019
It was Trump who said in June the NHS is “on the table”. And he knows if Labour wins US corporations won’t get their hands on it.
Our NHS is not for sale.pic.twitter.com/AUhht3pCgL
Leaders rarely violate diplomatic norms and wade into other countries’ elections.
Trump also said the United States has no interest in the Britain's National Health Service.
“We have absolutely nothing to do with it and we wouldn’t want to if you handed it to us on a silver platter,” Trump said.
Trump’s interest for the privatization of the NHS has been a key focus of the British election, with Corbyn accusing Johnson and the Conservative Party of including it in a post-Brexit deal with the United States. Johnson has denied the accusation.
Trump and the British prime minister will meet in group events with other NATO leaders but so far it is still unclear whether the two will have a one-on-one meeting. Other than his meeting with Stoltenberg, Trump is scheduled to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Criticism of Macron
Prior to his meeting with Macron later Tuesday, Trump criticized the French president for his recent statement describing NATO as experiencing "brain death," saying the comment was a "nasty statement."
Trump said Macron’s remark was “insulting” to other members. "You just can't go around making statements like that about NATO."
In the past Trump has said that NATO is “obsolete” and has repeatedly expressed his desire to leave the alliance.
Macron's comments came in an interview with the London-based magazine The Economist published last month. The French president has since defended his words, saying NATO "needed a wake-up call" and should be focused on issues other than the amount of money each member spends on its military.
Defense spending has been a focus for Trump since he took office in 2017 and complained the United States was taking on an outsized financial burden, when it comes to NATO.
Stoltenberg praised Trump on Tuesday, saying his leadership on the issue is "having a real impact." He cited a $130 billion increase in defense budgets among the non-U.S. NATO members and said that would go to $400 billion by 2024.
In addition to budget discussions, NATO’s secretary general said leaders would be talking about counterterrorism efforts, arms control, relations with Russia and the rise of China.
The summit comes as Trump faces an impeachment investigation back home. He repeated his criticism Tuesday of Democrats who control the House of Representatives, saying it is unfair to hold hearings while he is attending the summit.
But when asked if the proceedings weaken his position as he meets with other leaders, the Trump said, "I don't think so."
Trump is not the first U.S. president to attend a NATO summit under the cloud of impeachment. In 1974 Richard Nixon went to NATO's 25th anniversary meeting in Brussels while the U.S. House of Representatives was concluding its impeachment inquiry. Nixon stepped down a few weeks later.
Meeting with supporters
In between meetings with Stoltenberg and Macron, Trump met with supporters in a closed press event. Tuesday’s fundraiser was expected to raise $3 million for his re-election campaign.
Trump is also scheduled to meet with members of the royal family later Tuesday. He and first lady Melania Trump will have tea with Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall before joining other NATO leaders at a reception hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.