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Kim Darroch, British Ambassador To The U.S., On What To Expect Of Trump's U.K. Visit


Next week President Trump and first lady Melania Trump head to London for a state visit at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth. The last time Trump traveled to Britain, the president mostly avoided the capital, where there were protests. A huge balloon of Trump as a baby in diapers flew over Parliament Square.

The timing for next week's visit is awkward with British Prime Minister Theresa May about to resign. For a preview of what we can expect, we turn now to British ambassador to the U.S. Sir Kim Darroch. Welcome to our studio, Ambassador.

KIM DARROCH: Thank you very much. It's great to be here.

CORNISH: Now, our national security adviser, John Bolton, is in London. He said today that President Trump would be happy to help with Brexit. (Laughter) Is there a role for the U.S. to play in assisting Britain's exit from the European Union?

DARROCH: There is a role for the U.S. certainly after we have left because one of our main priorities post-Brexit will be to negotiate a free trade agreement with the U.S. In terms of what's happening now, look; a new leader, a new prime minister will be chosen by, I think, late July. So obviously the first thing is for the new prime minister to decide what approach he or she wants take and then to get parliamentary approval for that. And that's an internal process for the U.K.

If they want to talk to the EU about that, make sure the EU are happy with the way we are going, then that also is something for us. So I don't, to be honest with you, see a role for the U.S. in all of that. But of course it's good if the administration here is ready to help should we ask for anything.

CORNISH: President Trump praised Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage today. Boris Johnson of course could replace May as a prime minister, and Farage - he leads the Brexit party, and he's been a critic of hers. Days out from this state visit, though, does that make for an awkward meeting?

DARROCH: I don't think so. I think this is the most important bilateral relationship for us. If you look at the foundations, it's an extraordinarily strong relationship in defense cooperation. The economic relationship is huge. There is a huge amount of cultural interchange. And those are the foundations of the relationship.

CORNISH: But what does the U.K. hope to achieve with this visit, especially when you are in this state of flux?

DARROCH: As you said at the outset, the invitation is from her majesty the queen, and meetings between the president and her majesty the queen will be the centerpiece of the visit. But of course the talks are important, and they will be forward-looking about what more we can do together on defense, on national security, on the international problems that we both face.

CORNISH: So the Brexit problem doesn't have to be solved in order for it to be a productive meeting to your mind.

DARROCH: Absolutely not. I mean, I know that the administration here follows Brexit closely, and they wish us well on it. But there's a huge amount else that they will want to talk about.

CORNISH: I want to ask about an issue where the U.S. and the U.K. have a slightly different approach. That's the Chinese technology company Huawei. President Trump has largely barred from operating here citing specifically national security. Does the U.K. share the same concerns about essentially opening a back door to Chinese intelligence?

DARROCH: Huawei software and hardware is present in our commercial communications systems but not in sensitive, classified government systems or defense systems. U.S. concerns about Huawei equipment in sensitive places is something we share. We've not taken a decision yet on whether to ban any potential suppliers or operators.

CORNISH: What's the reluctance there, that you think, where the U.K. differs?

DARROCH: Well, first of all, there are some differences. I mean, there's a much bigger area here that you have to cover. Second, I mean, it's a question of finding a joint technical assessment about the risks. And that's something we are working on at the moment and, third, as a matter of assessing those risks and whether you need to ban or whether there are other ways of managing those risks. And so these are all issues that are under discussion.

CORNISH: As we mentioned earlier, the last time the president visited Britain, there were protests. Is he welcome there?

DARROCH: There are protests often. But let me assure you that the president is very welcome in the U.K. We're looking forward to his coming and the first lady and the family. And I'm sure it will be a successful visit.

CORNISH: British ambassador to the U.S., Sir Kim Darroch - Mr. Ambassador, thank you for speaking with us.

DARROCH: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.