Trump, in Davos, Hopes to Sell the Story of U.S. Success

DAVOS, Switzerland — President Trump arrived at this mountaintop resort town on Thursday ready to challenge the prevailing economic order as he takes his “America First” message directly to the banking titans, corporate magnates and international leaders who have spent years preaching the virtues of global integration.

After a trans-Atlantic flight to Zurich, Mr. Trump flew by helicopter to Davos and headed straight to his hotel, where he will spend the day meeting with fellow heads of state and hosting European chief executives. He made no comments immediately upon his arrival, but in a Twitter message before leaving Washington, he said he would use the trip to sell his story of economic success.

“Will soon be heading to Davos, Switzerland, to tell the world how great America is and is doing,” he wrote. “Our economy is now booming and with all I am doing, will only get better … Our country is finally WINNING again!”

Mr. Trump is only the second American president to attend the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos while in office, after Bill Clinton in 2000, but he comes under radically different circumstances. While Mr. Clinton championed lower economic barriers, no occupant of the White House in generations has been more skeptical of free trade than Mr. Trump.

He has scrapped or threatened to scrap trade agreements with countries across the Pacific, South Korea, and Mexico and Canada. This week, he slapped new tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines.

Mr. Trump will discuss those differences when he gives his much-anticipated speech on Friday, but advisers said the plan was not to be belligerent. Instead, they said, he plans to affirm that he believes in robust trade but that it has to be fair, and that the United States has not been treated well by its partners. And they said he would push for foreign investment in the United States, touting his success at lowering corporate taxes and rolling back business regulations.

“The agenda is going to be, again, that the U.S. is open for business, that the new tax law, tax cuts act, makes investing in the United States very attractive,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Still, the administration has spoken with different voices on that this week. While Mr. Mnuchin has sought to emphasize potential areas of agreement, Wilbur L. Ross, the commerce secretary, has more defiantly said that the United States was ready to wage trade wars.

At a briefing on Wednesday, he said that other countries had been waging trade wars against America for some time. “The difference is, the U.S. troops are now coming to the ramparts,” he said.

At another briefing, on Thursday, he toned that down a bit, saying the Trump administration was not seeking a trade war, but “we’re not flinching from that” either.

“We are the least protectionist country, regardless of the rhetoric that other people put,” he said. “We would like their behavior to match their rhetoric.”

Despite the doctrinal differences, Mr. Trump arrives with a bit of momentum, having pushed through $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, mainly for corporations, and presiding over a growing economy that is nearing full employment. Many business leaders at Davos, while still rolling their eyes at a president they consider erratic and ill informed, are nonetheless happy with his business-friendly policies and they anticipate more economic growth to come.

Mr. Trump planned to host European chief executives for dinner on Thursday, to sell them on investing in the United States. He also planned to meet with Prime Ministers Theresa May of Britain and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Those two meetings should showcase the wide disparity in Mr. Trump’s relations with longtime American allies. He and Mrs. May have quarreled on several occasions during his year in office, most recently over anti-Muslim videos from a far-right British group that Mr. Trump retweeted, and the president recently canceled a planned visit to London to open a new embassy building there.

Mr. Mnuchin said the so-called special relationship between the United States and Britain remained undiminished. “I do think we’ve had a very special economic relationship for a long period of time, and we would expect that to continue,” he said.

“I think we’ve been very clearly supportive of the U.K. on the Brexit issues,” he added, referring to Britain’s departure from the European Union, adding that and as soon as London was ready, the Trump administration would negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with the country.

Mr. Netanyahu, for his part, could hardly be happier with Mr. Trump, who recently discarded decades of American policy to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and who has threatened to pull out of a nuclear deal with Iran that the Israeli leader despises. Vice President Mike Pence, during a visit to Israel this week, announced that the United States Embassy would move to Jerusalem in 2019, which would make it the only foreign embassy in the disputed city, which Palestinians consider the capital of their future state.

Even leaders with grievances against the Trump administration seemed intent on putting aside their differences and playing up to him. Mr. Trump said this month that he would suspend almost all security aid to Pakistan for what he described as the country’s “lies and death,” notably its policies in Afghanistan.

Yet, at a dawn breakfast here on Thursday, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of Pakistan described in warm terms his brief meeting with Mr. Trump in September in New York, at a reception during the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly.

“I found him to be a different person from his public persona,” Mr. Abbasi said. “He is a very warm person, and he engaged me.”

Drawing a laugh from the audience, Mr. Abbasi added, “We had a frank discussion for about two minutes.”

Another leader recalled meeting Mr. Trump on the same occasion. “He is charming to me at least,” President Michel Temer of Brazil said in an interview with The New York Times. “As soon as he came in the room, he hugged me, he gave me a brotherly hug. He wanted to take a picture with me. He had been well briefed on Brazil.”