UK’s Boris Johnson juggles NATO summit with electioneering

WATFORD, England (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was juggling election campaigning with hosting a meeting of NATO leaders on Wednesday, including an unpredictable U.S. President Donald Trump.

Johnson is appealing for unity in the fractious 29-nation military alliance, arguing that it underpins the safety of 1 billion people.

“At the heart of it is a pledge that we will come to one another’s defense: all for one and one for all,” Johnson said as he arrived for the summit at a resort hotel outside London.

Fissures were on display as the two-day NATO gathering began Tuesday, as Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron sparred over Macron’s criticism of NATO and Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria.

The visit by Trump, who is widely unpopular in Britain, could complicate campaigning for the country’s Dec. 12 election. Johnson wants to avoid being too closely associated with the U.S. leader and was not photographed alongside Trump Tuesday, though the two met in private at 10 Downing St.

Johnson denied avoiding Trump.

“I’m going to be photographed with every possible leader of NATO,” he said.

On Tuesday Trump praised Johnson as “very capable,” but largely avoided commenting on the U.K. election. He denied that the U.S. intended to include Britain’s state-funded health service in negotiations on a future trade deal with Britain. The fate of the much-loved health service is a key campaign plank for the opposition Labour Party.

Johnson plans to return to the campaign trail later Wednesday, with just eight days to go until Britain’s Dec. 12 election.

He is seeking to remain prime minister and win a majority in Parliament for his Conservative Party, with a vow to “get Brexit done” by taking Britain out of the EU on the currently scheduled date of Jan. 31.

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs in next week’s vote.