Speaking in Davos, Switzerland, President Trump touted recent trade wins and a strong U.S. economy. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains that his remarks were directed to U.S. voters, as well as senators who are kicking off the impeachment trial in Washington. Photo: Jason Alden/Bloomberg News

DAVOS, Switzerland—President Trump said Tuesday that he is serious about imposing tariffs on European automobiles if he can’t strike a trade agreement with the European Union.

“They know that I’m going to put tariffs on them if they don’t make a deal that’s a fair deal,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

Mr. Trump declined to say what deadline he is imposing on the negotiations before he would move ahead with the auto tariffs. “They know what the deadline is,” the president said, adding that he would reveal it publicly soon.

The remarks came on Mr. Trump’s first day at the annual summit of world leaders and business executives. He spoke to the Journal shortly before participating in a bilateral meeting with European Commission President

Ursula von der Leyen.

He didn’t mention auto tariffs in brief remarks to reporters during the meeting.

The Trump administration let a previous deadline of Nov. 13 for the imposition of auto tariffs lapse. Former European Trade Commissioner

Cecilia Malmstrom

said last year the EU considered that lapsed deadline as an indication Washington wouldn’t enact the duties on auto imports from Europe. She said the EU would strike back with duties on American exports.

The president also confirmed that he has come to an agreement with French President

Emmanuel Macron

to postpone until the end of 2020 the tax that France levied on big tech companies last year. Mr. Trump said he threatened to impose a 100% tax on French wine if the digital tax wasn’t paused.

“It’s not that I’m in love with them,” Mr. Trump said of U.S. tech companies, “but if anybody is going to tax these companies, it’s going to be U.S. that taxes these companies.”

Mr. Trump is scheduled to take part in several bilateral meetings with world leaders during his two-day trip to Davos. He said he did not currently have plans to meet with Ukrainian President

Volodymyr Zelensky,

who is also attending the summit.

“I didn’t know he was here. I don’t think we had it planned,” Mr. Trump said when asked by the Journal about a potential meeting. But he said he would be willing to meet with him: “I think he’s a really good guy.”

The president said his administration is developing a middle-class tax cut that would go into effect if he keeps the presidency and Republicans control Congress. He declined to offer any details about the measure.

“We’re talking a fairly substantial…middle-class tax cut that’ll be subject to taking back the House and obviously keeping the Senate and keeping the White House,” he said. The president said the administration is crafting it now and it will be unveiled in 90 days.

Mr. Trump confirmed that he is planning to add additional nations to an updated version of his travel ban that the administration is expected to release later this month. He wouldn’t reveal which countries would be added. The Supreme Court in 2018 affirmed Mr. Trump’s power to block citizens of several Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S., finding the authority was justified on independent national-security grounds including an administration study that found weaknesses in how some countries vetted their travelers.

As for the administration’s longstanding effort to oust Venezuelan leader

Nicolás Maduro,

Mr. Trump said he is still weighing additional options without offering details.

“We’re looking at many different things,” he said. “We have a lot of options.”

President Trump attends a bilateral meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday.


Photo:

jonathan ernst/Reuters

The president said he didn’t know

Greta Thunberg,

the teenage Swedish climate activist whom Mr. Trump criticized in a December tweet for what he described as an “anger management problem.” Ms. Thunberg is speaking at the Davos summit as well.

“I don’t really know anything about her,” Mr. Trump said before adding that she’s “very angry.”

The president occasionally paused the interview to comment on Fox News, which was playing on a television in the background during the interview. At one point, he commented on footage of the gun-rights protests in Virginia, calling the state’s governor, Democrat

Ralph Northam,

a “wack job.”

He suggested the protests have benefited him politically. “Thank you very much for handing me Virginia,” he said.

In another moment, Mr. Trump reacted to a headline about U.F.C. fighter

Conor McGregor

praising his presidency. “That’s good,” he said. “I’m not going to fight him, I guarantee you that.”

“He beat the hell out of the guy,” Mr. Trump added.

The president, in a roughly 30-minute speech earlier Tuesday at the summit, touted the U.S. economy. He also said the passage of a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, and last week’s signing of an early-stage deal with China represent a model of future trade negotiations.

Asked to explain his top-line message to the summit attendees, Mr. Trump said: “How well the U.S. is doing.”

“The potential is enormous. There’s tremendous growth potential,” he said, adding that the effects of the trade agreements haven’t kicked in yet.

Write to Andrew Restuccia at Andrew.Restuccia@wsj.com

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