Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, is to meet the UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, in London at the end of the month as he attempts to burnish his credentials as a credible Republican leader capable of operating on a global stage ahead of a widely expected run for US president.
He is to lead a Florida trade delegation on a four-nation tour taking in Japan, South Korea, Israel and the UK.
In Japan, DeSantis will meet Fumio Kishida, the Japanese prime minister and chair of the G7 group of industrialised nations, and in Israel on 27 April he will make a keynote speech celebrating the 75th anniversary of the formation of the state of Israel. In South Korea, accompanied by his wife Casey he will meet the prime minister, Han Duck-soo.
DeSantis is trailing Donald Trump in the polls, and with the Republican primaries due to start early next year, the trade delegation gives DeSantis a chance to widen his appeal domestically and to take an early bow on the world stage. His lack of international experience in comparison with other Republican frontrunners, including the former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, is notable.
DeSantis has not formally announced a run for president in 2024 but is widely expected to announce his candidacy in the months ahead.
Many G7 leaders, as well as European politicians, are full of foreboding at the prospect of the return of Trump after his stormy four years in office, and will be seeking reassurance that DeSantis is committed to Nato and the defeat of Russia in Ukraine.
DeSantis caused consternation in Europe in March when he appeared to pander to an isolationist tendency in the Republican party by characterising the Ukraine war as “a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia”, adding it was not a US priority to become further entangled in this dispute.
In a written response to Fox News, he said: “We cannot prioritise intervention in an escalating foreign war over the defence of our homeland.”
Insisting the US could not write blank cheques for Ukraine, he added the provision of F16s and long-range missiles to Ukraine had to be kept off the table since there was a risk Kyiv would use such weapons to spread the war beyond the country’s borders.
DeSantis subsequently shaded his reference to a territorial dispute by insisting he was not neutral on the issue of whether eastern Ukraine could legitimately be claimed by Vladimir Putin.