Washington – President Trump said Friday that he continues to believe torture methods can be effective to combat terrorism, but he pledged to defer over whether to implement such tactics to Defense Secretary James N Mattis, who has opposed them.
"He will override," Trump said in a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House. "I'm giving him that power."
Trump said that enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, which were forbidden by the Obama administration, can work.
Mattis, a retired Marine general, "has stated publicly that he does not necessarily believe in torture or waterboarding," Trump said. "I'm going to rely on him."
In the fight against terror groups, Trump added, "we're going to win with or without" such torture tactics.
Trump's remarks came on a day in which he planned to visit the Pentagon to oversee Mattis's ceremonial swearing in. He is expected to sign several executive actions related to national security, including directives to move forward on his pledge to eradicate terror groups such as the Islamic State.
Trump's meeting with May was his first with a foreign leader, a summit on trade and security that is being closely watched around the world.
Trump's decision to invite May is a chance for him to demonstrate his administration's commitment to maintaining close relations with a key US ally while pursuing new trade ties as Britain works to exit the European Union.
May said at the news conference that she expects economic sanctions imposed by the United States and European countries on Russia to remain in place until Moscow abides by an agreement to halt hostilities in Ukraine.
Trump, who is scheduled to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is reportedly considering lifting those sanctions as he pursues a better working relationship with Moscow.
"It's very early to be talking about that," Trump said when asked if he would lift the sanctions. "If we can have a great relationship with Russia and with China and all countries, I'm all for that. No guarantees, but if we can, that would be a positive, not a negative."
Trump and May vaulted to power last year by speaking to similar strains of populist anxiety over broad global shifts in the economy and immigration that led voters to reject the status quo and take a gamble on forces who promised sweeping change. Trump's skepticism toward international institutions and multilateral partnerships have raised questions abroad about the future of US leadership on the world stage.
Trump and May appeared together at a joint news conference at the White House, the first time the new president has fielded questions from the full press corps since his inauguration.
Trump has sought to follow through on his promises of change in a whirlwind first week as he signed a flurry of executive actions meant to shake up the United States's role internationally. He has withdrawn US participation in a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal, ordered planning to begin on a border wall with Mexico and floated plans to block refugees and immigrants from Syria and other Muslim-majority countries.
He was expected to sign new executive actions focused on national security during a trip to the Pentagon on Friday after his meeting with May.
"Now is the dawn of a new era of American independence, a rededication to the idea that the people are in charge of their own destiny," Trump told Republican lawmakers at a congressional retreat in Philadelphia on Thursday.
His meeting with May, who replaced David Cameron in July, represents Trump's opening bid to begin pursuing the sort of bilateral negotiations on trade and security that he prefers over the kind of multilateral partnerships that former president Obama favoured.
During her own remarks at the GOP retreat Thursday, May praised Trump's electoral success and hailed "a new era of American renewal" and she expressed a kinship with Trump as leaders who put power in the "hands of the people."
But she also emphasised that the United States must not abandon international institutions such as NATO and the United Nations. "Some of these organisations are in need of reform and renewal to make them relevant to our needs today," May said.
Trump's rapid-fire moves since taking office have prompted a vocal backlash at home and abroad. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Thursday canceled a visit to the White House scheduled for next week.
Trump aides reacted by suggesting that the United States could pay for the wall, which is projected to cost billions of dollars, through a 20 percent import tax on goods from Mexico, a move that, if carried out, could spark a trade war with the United States' third-largest trading partner.
"Mexico has taken advantage of the U.S. for long enough," Trump wrote on his personal Twitter account Friday morning. "Massive trade deficits & little help on the very weak border must change, NOW!"
On Friday morning, Trump and Peña Nieto spoke by phone for an hour, White House officials said.
The personal row with Peña Nieto was one of several opening week conflagrations for Trump that threatened to derail the new administration's focus. Stung by news coverage over the crowd size at his inauguration, the president and his aides have repeatedly denounced what Trump called the "dishonest media" and accused reporters of purposely seeking to discredit him
In a private meeting with congressional leaders and in interviews, Trump renewed baseless claims this week that 3 million to 5 million ineligible voters cast ballots in the presidential election last November, claiming they helped Democrat Hillary Clinton win the popular vote.
Trump intends to sign a directive as soon as Friday aimed at opening a federal review of the voting rolls, aides said.
And on Saturday, Trump is scheduled to speak with several other world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and Putin.
Trump was a harsh critic of Merkel during the campaign, calling her policy of allowing Syrian refugees to settle in Germany "a very tragic mistake" and "a catastrophe."
Trump has said he is willing to work with Putin despite the assessments from U.S. intelligence agencies that Moscow meddled in the presidential elections to help him.
Though the president has acknowledge Russia's involvement in the hacking of Democratic Party emails, Trump has insisted that he does not believe Putin's regime wanted him to win.