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Away from allies, toward autocrats: Trump's canceled trip to Britain underscores a pattern in his bonds with world leaders

Tracy Wilkinson and Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- They love him in Saudi Arabia. Britain? Not so much.

President Donald Trump has shared warm photo-ops with autocrats from Riyadh to Beijing and Manila. But the century-old special bond with Britain, America's most celebrated world partnership, is more frigid than it's been in decades. And now Trump has canceled an upcoming visit to London amid expectations that he would draw massive protests.

News that Trump had scrapped the trip came late Thursday, on the heels of reports that he called African countries "shitholes" in a private meeting in which he also disparaged Haitians and Central Americans. Trump has since denied those accounts, on Twitter, but one lawmaker present during the meeting to discuss immigration policy said on Friday that they were accurate. No other participants disputed the reports.

Trump's comments set off a wave of anger and recriminations from foreign leaders and their subjects, and added to a growing list of countries -- many of them longtime U.S. allies -- where Trump would get a chilly reception at best.

The reactions, coupled with Trump's canceled trip to Britain, underscore a pattern in the president's relationships with world leaders after nearly a year in office: He has cozied up to the globe's leading autocrats while leaders of traditional democratic allies, notably Britain and Germany, are increasingly uncomfortable with the nationalist American president.

Trump said nothing about the anticipated anti-Trump demonstrations in Britain. Instead, he maintained on Twitter that he was scrubbing next month's trip, which was intended for him to inaugurate a new U.S. Embassy compound in London, because President Barack Obama had cut a "bad deal" in selling the old property.

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Trump's assertion was false. The $1 billion embassy project, a high-tech building overlooking the River Thames and designed in part to symbolically represent the two countries' ties, was initiated by President George W. Bush, who cited security reasons.

Already, Trump's visit to a typically welcoming capital had been much delayed. Londoners had made clear almost from the start of his presidency that he was unwelcome, and planned demonstrations. Members of Parliament repeatedly have argued against any invitations.

One of Trump's first acts, a travel ban for residents of a group of mostly Muslim-majority nations, incited much vitriol in England. His anti-Muslim comments and others against the British, the Muslim mayor of London and Europe in general strained what is known as the "special relationship" between Washington and London, the closest diplomatic tie that the United States has.

London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, responded on Twitter to the president's cancellation of his trip: "President Trump got the message from the many Londoners who love and admire America and Americans, but find his policies and action the polar opposite of our city's values."


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