Saturday January 13, 2018
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The new United States embassy building is seen during a press preview near the River Thames in London, December 13, 2017. — Reuters picThe new United States embassy building is seen during a press preview near the River Thames in London, December 13, 2017. — Reuters picLONDON, Jan 13 — President Donald Trump’s decision to forgo a visit to London to open a new US embassy kindled doubts about his justification for staying away — even from his own nation’s diplomats.

Trump asserted late Thursday on Twitter that he “canceled” his trip to the UK next month because he didn’t like the deal under which the embassy was moved. He blamed President Barack Obama’s administration for selling the old site for “peanuts” and building the new embassy in an “off location.” In short, the real estate mogul pegged it as a lousy deal.

Yet yesterday the US embassy in London joined British officials in rebutting his claims. The old building had “aged beyond its ability” to be improved to meet security and safety standards without a major infrastructure investment, the embassy said in a statement. Teams surveyed more than 50 sites before settling on the area of Vauxhall, south of the river Thames, for the new location, according to the statement.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office took issue with Trump’s unflattering portrait of the new site as an “off location.”

“Vauxhall is a vibrant and important part of London and home to many businesses,” May’s spokesman Max Blain told reporters yesterday. May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy suggested the president should try visiting a famous gay bar in the area.

Relations between the US and its closest ally have been tested repeatedly since Trump took office almost a year ago.

An invitation from May for Trump to visit Queen Elizabeth II has encountered growing opposition, fuelled in part by the president’s Twitter criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and his retweets of propaganda from a far-right British anti-Muslim group.

Londoners “have made it clear that Donald Trump is not welcome here,” Khan said. “His visit next month would without doubt have been met by mass peaceful protests.”

Still, British officials said their government had been working on the basis that Trump would arrive in late February, though no firm date had been set.

The president, however, had become fed up with all the criticism and considered it an affront not only to his administration, but to his country, a White House official said yesterday. The official, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive diplomatic matter, said Trump’s decision reflected his belief that there was nothing to gain by going to Britain now.

One prominent British Trump fan suggested he may have been looking for a good excuse to call off a visit.

“It’s disappointing,” Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party told BBC Radio’s Today programme yesterday. It’s possible that plans for “mass protests, those optics he didn’t like the look of.”

While the embassy statement emphasised that the US was able to erect a new building project through a property swap, without using taxpayer funds, Trump might have a point on the economics of selling the old embassy in London’s tony Mayfair district.

The transaction took place at the bottom of the last real estate downturn, data compiled by broker Jones Lang LaSalle Inc for Bloomberg News shows. Values for the best offices in the West End, which includes Mayfair, have doubled since then.

The State Department agreed to sell the Mayfair building to Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Co in 2009 to finance the relocation. The investors have sought approval to turn it into a hotel, according to the project’s website.

The president’s decision to stay away also may have averted a potential royal snub.

There’s been speculation that Trump isn’t happy that he may not be invited to the forthcoming wedding of Prince Harry and his American fiancee Meghan Markle. The prince is on friendly terms with Obama, who UK media have suggested will be invited.

“Who his Royal Highness Prince Harry and Miss Markle invite to their wedding is really a matter for them,” said senior Conservative Party lawmaker Tom Tugendhat.

The British government said Trump is welcome to visit some other time.

“The US is one of our oldest and most valued allies, and our strong partnership will endure,” May’s spokesman Blain said. — Bloomberg

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