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June 27, 2017

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'Xi's given me nothing so far'

PALM BEACH, Florida -- U.S. President Donald Trump predicted a "very great" relationship with China's Xi Jinping as the pair met for the first time at his Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago Thursday, when cordiality replaced tough anti-China rhetoric.

Trump, in his signature red tie, warmly welcomed his Chinese counterpart Xi, decked out in contrasting blue, to what the US leader likes to call the "Winter White House" for a superpower summit in the sun.

Inside the luxurious resort Trump waxed lyrical that it was a "great honor" to host the Chinese leader, breaking the ice with a joke about his own dealmaking prowess.

"We had a long discussion already. So far, I have gotten nothing. Absolutely nothing," he said to laughs from the delegation.

"But I can see that, I think long-term, we are going to have a very, very great relationship and I look very much forward to it."

This is the first time the two leaders meet, after a U.S. election that featured frequent barbs at China's "rape" of the U.S. economy.

During that campaign, Trump had ridiculed his predecessor's decision to offer Xi a coveted state dinner, saying that — if elected — he would serve the 63-year-old a Big Mac.

But inside Mar-a-Lago's ornate dining room — with gold-trimmed chairs, fine cut glass and polished silverware — it was Dover sole with champagne sauce and New York strip steak with whipped potatoes rather than McDonald's on the menu.

The open agenda and the personal setting for the 24-hour summit are designed to allow the leaders to freewheel and build a rapport, in what is the world's most important relationship.

The Chinese leader has plans to reciprocate America's hospitality, according to Beijing's official news agency.

Xinhua reported on Friday that Xi invited Trump to a state visit in China later this year, an offer which it said Trump accepted "with pleasure."

The Florida summit has been somewhat overshadowed by Trump's decision to launch military action targeting the Syrian regime, in response to an apparent chemical attack.

Trump informed the Chinese leader personally of the missile strikes on an air base in central Syria, a senior administration official told AFP.

Talks will continue up to a working lunch on Friday, and are likely to turn to more serious issues.

Peace Offerings

Amid concerns about security and public perceptions, Xi and his wife are not staying at Mar-a-Lago, but at a resort and spa a short drive down the palm-fringed coast that is, for now, watched by snipers, tactical units and a coastguard cutter. The two leaders were joined Thursday evening by U.S. first lady and former model Melania Trump and Peng Liyuan — a celebrated folk singer who Trump hailed as a "great, great celebrity."

Xi had arrived to the meeting with a gift basket of "tweetable deliverables," sources say, peace offerings on Trump's signature issues — trade and jobs — that he hopes will smooth over a relationship that began on shaky ground following disagreements over Taiwan. Top of the list, according to a source briefed on Xi's plans, will be a package of Chinese investments aimed at creating more than 700,000 American jobs — the number pledged to Trump by China's regional rival Japan, during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's February Mar-a-Lago visit.

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