DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It has been a tumultuous few days in Europe for President Trump. He has lashed out at European allies, including U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, although he had a bit of a different tone when he was standing next to Prime Minister May at a news conference that is just wrapping up as we speak. I'm joined now by NPR London correspondent Frank Langfitt and NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, both of whom are in the U.K. monitoring this meeting. Good morning to you both.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.
GREENE: So, Ayesha, I want to start with you. The president - President Trump gave this interview to The Sun newspaper which sounds like it was the talk of the town in London this morning. He was criticizing the prime minister's handling of Brexit. He was praising one of her political rivals. He trashed the (laughter) mayor of London. How did these two leaders handle what seemed like it was the elephant in the room coming into this meeting?
RASCOE: President Trump basically said that - he didn't dispute the things that were said in that interview, but he said that they left out all the very nice things that he said about the prime minister. We see this a lot with President Trump where he basically - he likes to say that he has very good relationships with leaders personally and that he likes them. But he can be very, very critical of the leaders and what they're doing basically when they're not in the room, like on Twitter and in interviews. And that's kind of what happened here. So basically he was saying it's not as bad as it seemed, and he wasn't personally criticizing Prime Minister May.
GREENE: Frank Langfitt, the prime minister in a very difficult spot. I mean, in a way, President Trump was hitting her when she was down, facing a political crisis over Brexit. So she was standing there at a very tough moment for her and her government.
LANGFITT: Yeah. It was extremely awkward, and initially she didn't even address anything that he had said in the newspaper. And it was as though it was a parallel universe. And it was really only in the Q&A's that she was forced to kind of, you know, acknowledge what had happened.
GREENE: Well, let me turn to one big issue, Frank Langfitt, and it is immigration because these two leaders seem to have some distance between them on how they view it - because President Trump had made some comments in that Sun interview about immigration, in his view, being bad for Europe and the U.K. So what did we hear from these two leaders on that topic?
LANGFITT: Well, I thought it was really fascinating. From Prime Minister May, you heard sort of a liberal European approach - some of Europe. And that is that it's been a positive - has had a positive impact. And certainly many people in London - it's a very multicultural city - would feel that way. Here's what Prime Minister May said.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Look at what's happening. I mean, you take a look. I mean, look at what...
GREENE: Did not sound like Prime Minister May.
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TRUMP: Never had difficulty. Never had problems. It's a very sad situation. It's very unfortunate, but I do not think it's good for Europe. And I don't think it's good for our country.
LANGFITT: Let me jump in...
GREENE: OK, so that was President Trump there. Yeah.
LANGFITT: Yeah. That was President Trump, and so I'll...
GREENE: Let's listen to Theresa May now, if we can.
LANGFITT: OK, sounds goods.
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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: Over the years, overall immigration has been good for the U.K. It's bought people with different backgrounds, different outlooks here to the U.K. and has - and we've seen them contributing to our society and to our economy.
LANGFITT: Well, so you can see there's a dramatic difference there, David, between President Trump's view, which is immigration a huge issue in the United States and seeing it more in terms of changing the culture of a country, creating threats in terms of terrorism. And Prime Minister May is more of a liberal Western European approach, which would be the advantages that immigration has brought to major cities here. Now, it's important to point out that there are European leaders who would very much agree with President Trump on this issue. You'd see them in places like Hungary - certainly coming to power in Italy as well as Austria. So you get this very different - gosh - this cleavage in the Western world about immigration. Good, bad - what are the risks?
GREENE: Well, I want to turn to another topic, and it is Russia because President Trump is moving on from here. He's going to go to Scotland for the weekend and then move to Helsinki to actually meet with Vladimir Putin. And this is such an interesting moment because, in the view of many, the president has been, you know, criticizing these important European alliances at a moment when, you know, Vladimir Putin - that might be something that he would love to be seeing. So, Ayesha Rascoe, how did the president take on his relationship with Vladimir Putin in Russia as he was standing here with a European ally?
RASCOE: President Trump really - and, for me, it was one of the strongest defenses that I've seen President Trump do of his treatment of Russia. And basically what he said was, yes, the media is focused on my criticism of NATO, but the bottom line is I'm getting them to spend more on the military. I'm getting them to do - and we're united in that. And that Russia is not going to be happy about that bottom line - that I'm getting all of these allies to invest in military, presumably, to deter Russia. And he said that he also, of course, is investing in energy and things like that. And he pointed out that he - that the U.S. did expel those Russians who were in the U.S. - 60 Russians who were in the U.S. after there was that chemical attack in London. So I think that that - so he made a very strong case that he is doing - that he is actually being tough on Russia, but he did follow it up with his usual. He wants to have a good relationship with Putin.
GREENE: And I was also struck. Didn't he bring up the question of Russian meddling in the U.S. election himself? Not even asked about that.
RASCOE: Well, he brought up the witch hunt (laughter), which he...
GREENE: His words. Yeah.
RASCOE: ...Calls the witch hunt, which is the Mueller - his words, quote, "the witch hunt" - the Mueller investigation. And what he says is that that is part of what is keeping the U.S. from being able to have a good relationship with the U.K. So he basically, as an aside, said, also we shouldn't have this Mueller investigation. Kind of threw that in there, and that's also harming the U.S. relationship with Russia. Obviously there are a lot of people who would disagree with that and feel like President Trump should be harder on Russia when it comes to the Russian - when it comes to election meddling.
GREENE: Frank Langfitt, what is the European view of this meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump that's going to happen in coming days?
LANGFITT: Well, I think among the liberal Western European countries, they'll be focusing on it incredibly closely. And what they want to see is after the president has gone to NATO and bashed allies, come here and undermined the leader of a incredibly important relationship to the United States - when he goes to Helsinki, what's he going to say about Vladimir Putin? Will he undercut him, or will he greet him very warmly and say wonderful things about him? And I think that people will look very closely at that to see where, you know, President Trump's real interests lie.
GREENE: All right. Speaking to NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt and NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, both in the U.K. covering President Trump's visit to Europe which moves from here to Scotland for the weekend and then to Helsinki for that big meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Thank you both very much for your reporting.
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LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David.
RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.