Boris Johnson denies dodging Trump during pre-election NATO trip
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Boris Johnson denies dodging Trump during pre-election NATO trip

As leaders meet behind closed doors, some speculate British PM is wary of being seen with US president a week before elections; both later posed for photos

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) greets US President Donald Trump upon arrival for the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London, on December 4, 2019. (Adrian DENNIS / AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) greets US President Donald Trump upon arrival for the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London, on December 4, 2019. (Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

WATFORD, United Kingdom (AFP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied on Wednesday he was avoiding being pictured with Donald Trump ahead of a UK election next week, as footage emerged of other leaders mocking the US president.

Johnson met Trump away from the cameras on Tuesday before a two-day NATO summit, avoiding the media fanfare that normally accompanies such talks.

He also failed to publicly greet Trump and his wife Melania on the doorstep of Downing Street before a reception with other NATO leaders.

Johnson’s team are wary of what Trump might say during his two-day visit, with Britain set to go to the polls on December 12.

Johnson’s Conservatives are leading opinion polls, but the rival Labour party has sought to whip up public opinion against Trump, who is deeply unpopular in Britain.

In a press conference on Tuesday, the US president promised to “stay out” of the election campaign and most of his remarks were about divisions within NATO.

But he still managed to endorse Johnson as “very capable” and intervene in a row over US interests in Britain’s state-run National Health Service (NHS) after Brexit.

Nato heads of government (front row L-R): Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, US President Donald Trump, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (middle row L-R) France’s President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir (top row L-R) Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Lithuania’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis and Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova, pose for the family photo at the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London on December 4, 2019. (Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

Arriving for the formal NATO talks in Watford, north of London, on Wednesday, Johnson denied he was trying to avoid being seen with Trump.

“I’m going to be photographed with every possible leader,” he insisted, and later posed with the president for an official welcome alongside NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

Downing Street said Trump and Johnson had discussed the NATO summit and an earlier meeting between Britain, France, Germany and Turkey about the situation in Syria.

Trump wrote on Twitter that he “enjoyed” the talks, which he said covered “numerous subjects including NATO and trade.”

Johnson is campaigning for reelection on a promise to get Britain out of the European Union next month, more than three years after the 2016 Brexit referendum.

He has held up a new US trade deal as one of the prizes of Brexit, but has faced accusations from Labour that this will open up the much loved NHS to US firms.

Johnson denies this, and Trump said his country would not be interested in the NHS “if you handed it to us on a silver platter.”

Candid camera

Officials are braced for Trump to become more loquacious in a press conference after the NATO talks later on Wednesday — particularly after footage emerged apparently showing other leaders apparently laughing at him.

At a NATO reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, Johnson can be heard asking French President Emmanuel Macron why he was late.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that Trump’s press conference had run on, as he commented on everything from “nasty” Macron’s criticism of NATO as brain dead, to “delinquent” European countries that failed to meet defense spending targets.

“Oh, yeah, yeah, he announced…” an amused Trudeau declares in the footage, adding: “You just watched his team’s jaw drop to the floor.”

The footage was shot by the British host’s camera pool on Tuesday evening, then spotted and subtitled by Canada’s CBC.

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