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Theresa May urges patience among EU leaders over Donald Trump

Theresa May has urged her European Union counterparts to be patient with Donald Trump as the continent's leaders voiced their concerns about the US president.

The Prime Minister defended her decision to seek a close relationship with the Trump administration, stressing that she had secured his commitment to the Nato alliance.

But European leaders at a summit in Valletta warned that they would not let the controversial tycoon "trample" on their values and played down the role Mrs May could play as a bridge between the EU and US.

The Prime Minister, the first foreign leader to visit Mr Trump in the White House, said she was "pleased" to have seen him so early in his administration and stressed that she had secured a "100% commitment" to Nato from him.

She stressed that in negotiations over Brexit she wanted to build a "strong partnership" with the EU and pledged the UK would be a "good friend and ally".

But German chancellor Angela Merkel - who Mrs May chatted to during a walk through the Maltese capital but did not have a formal meeting with - warned against allowing a "race to the lowest taxes to take place" when asked about the suggestion that the UK could slash business tax rates to remain economically competitive if it failed to strike a Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister updated the 27 other EU leaders about her visit to Washington and advised them to engage "patiently and constructively" with the new administration.

A source said Mrs May urged other EU leaders to work with the US, a "friend and ally" which "helped guarantee the longest period of peace this continent has ever known".

She said that the alternative of "division and confrontation" would "embolden" those who wished to do the EU harm.

But the summit's host, Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat said the 28 national leaders had voiced "concern" over some of Mr Trump's decisions and attitudes and agreed that it was time for the EU to "lead at a global level".

Mr Muscat said "t here was no sense of anti-Americanism", instead "t here was a sense that we need to engage with the United States just the same, but that we need to show... that we cannot stay silent where there are principles involved".

"As in any good relationship, we will speak very clearly where we think that those principles are being trampled on."

French president Francois Hollande said Mr Trump should "not get involved" in Brexit and played down the importance of Mrs May's relationship with the Trump administration.

"When Donald Trump said it was wonderful for a European country to leave the European Union, he should not get involved in this, " Mr Hollande said.

He said Mrs May "reported to us and also shared her views about the new administration, she did so in the name of the United Kingdom but also, I believe she's done it in Europe's interests".

He added: "But of course it is not about asking one particular country, be it the UK or any other, to represent Europe in its relationship with the United States."

However European Council president Donald Tusk suggested the UK could be "very helpful".

He said: "What we need is as strong transatlantic friendship and relations as possible, and the UK can, inside Europe or outside Europe, the EU not Europe, can be very helpful."

On the margins of the summit, Mrs May had talks with her counterparts from Spain and Austria.

A hoped-for formal meeting with Mrs Merkel was replaced by a lengthy discussion as the pair walked through Valletta before the working lunch.

Aides insisted that the talks "covered everything they had wanted to discuss".

But Mrs Merkel said the conversation did not touch on the UK's relationship with the Trump administration: " We spoke, but not about that. I believe there is always a special relationship between Great Britain and the USA."

Mrs Merkel added: "I am pleased that Theresa May has said that she wants a strong Europe. She repeated that once again today."

The German chancellor said that she and other leaders had made clear during the lunchtime discussions that they wanted "to seek transatlantic co-operation on the basis of our common values".

She added: "There will be points on which we agree, for example the struggle against international terrorism. There will be points on which we do not agree.

"I have in recent days already pointed out that the struggle against international terrorism should not become a general suspicion of people from particular countries or a particular faith."

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite questioned the ability of anyone to act as a bridge to Mr Trump.

"I think there is no necessity of bridges because online there is no possibility to get a bridge, because today we communicate with the United States mainly on Twitter," she told the BBC.

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