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President Donald Trump rowed back Wednesday on his comments that Britain's much-loved national health service should be opened up to US private companies in a post-Brexit trade deal.
The mercurial US leader also softened his tone on UK Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and actress-turned-British princess Meghan Markle.
Trump sparked outrage across Britain's political divide by telling a joint press conference with Prime Minister Theresa May that "everything is on the table" in talks on a post-Brexit US-UK free trade deal - including the NHS health service.
"So NHS or anything else. A lot more than that," Trump said on the second of his three-day state visit Tuesday.
Britons treasure their free health care system and fear its partial privatisation. Some suggest that US pharmaceutical companies would hike the price of medications and other basic services.
Trump was asked specifically about the NHS at the press event and appeared to ask May what the acronym stood for before responding.
He told ITV television in an interview aired on Wednesday that he did not mean that the UK health system would be up for negotiations in the talks.
"I don't see it being on the table," Trump told ITV.
"Somebody asked me a question today and I say 'everything's up for negotiation' because everything is, but that's something that I would not consider part of trade."
Trump sowed more confusion by suggesting that he was not opposed to either meeting Corbyn or dealing with him should he ever become UK prime minister.
The self-avowed socialist delivered a fiery speech at an anti-Trump rally Tuesday and boycotted Monday's reception for the US president at Buckingham Palace hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Trump told reporters Tuesday that he had turned down Corbyn's request for a private meeting because he was "something of a negative force".
A Labour spokesman confirmed that Corbyn had made the request.
Trump told ITV that he might meet Corbyn after all.
"I didn't think it was appropriate to meet him, but I would. I certainly would have no problem with it," Trump said.
"I think it's a long shot when you say that, you know, I don't, I don't think it's going to happen."
Trump managed to ruffle feathers even before his arrival by dishing out advice in a pair of interviews about how to handle Brexit and who was best placed to lead the country after May steps down as Conservative party chief on Friday.
'Did I say nasty?'
He was further quoted as telling The Sun that he thought Meghan - the US-born actress who married Prince Harry last year and became the Duchess of Sussex - was "nasty" for saying in 2016 that she would move to Canada if Trump became president.
Trump told ITV that he was misunderstood.
"They said some of the things that she said and it's actually on tape," Trump told ITV.
"And I said: 'Well, I didn't know she was nasty'. I wasn't referring to she's nasty. I said she was nasty about me. And essentially I didn't know she was nasty about me."
He added: "You know what? She's doing a good job."
Trump turns from pomp to business in UK visit
President Donald Trump will turn from pageantry to policy Tuesday as he joins British Prime Minister Theresa May for a day of talks likely to highlight fresh uncertainty in the allies’ storied relationship.
Trump and May are due to meet with corporate executives from the United States and United Kingdom, before an afternoon news conference on the second day of Trump’s state visit. The leaders’ top priority is a possible bilateral trade deal to take effect once the U.K. leaves the European Union.
“Big Trade Deal is possible once U.K. gets rid of the shackles. Already starting to talk,” Trump tweeted Monday, as he launched his visit with a day of royal pomp and circumstance. He and first lady Melania Trump paid a visit to Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II greeted them with a smile. The evening ended with a lavish state dinner.
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31 unless both sides agree to an extension. Its position is in flux because May is stepping down as party leader Friday, setting in motion a race to succeed her as prime minister.
It is traditional for U.S. and other world leaders not weigh in on another’s domestic politics. But Trump hasn’t let that stop him. Trump told the Sunday Times in an interview that Britain should “walk away” from talks and refuse to pay a 39 billion-pound ($49 billion) divorce bill if it doesn’t get better terms from the EU.
The president also says Brexit party leader Nigel Farage, an outspoken advocate of leaving the EU without a deal, should be given a role in the negotiations.
Trump has also taken the unusual step of saying that Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson would make an “excellent” leader for the U.K.
The meeting with business leaders at St. James’ Palace will bring together 10 leading companies — five from the UK and five from the United States. They’ll explore where cooperation could benefit both sides.
CEOs and senior representatives from BAE Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, National Grid, Barclays, Reckitt Benckiser, JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, Goldman Sachs International, Bechtel and Splunk are expected to attend.
As often happens when Trump travels overseas, norms were shattered, including when the president complained about his television viewing options in the foreign capital and urged people to punish CNN by boycotting its parent company, AT&T.
Following Tuesday’s focus on business and trade, Trump will use the next two days to mark the 75th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day landing, likely the last significant commemoration most veterans of the battle will see. The events will begin in Portsmouth, England, where the invasion was launched, and then move across the Channel to France.
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