Trump and Silicon Valley elite seek to smooth over frictions

By By Dustin Volz and David Shepardson Features Reuters

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appears at a campaign roundtable event in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo (Copyright Reuters 2016)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Silicon Valley executives have a chance to smooth over frictions when they meet at his Manhattan tower on Wednesday for talks, after both sides made no secret of their disdain for each other during the presidential campaign.

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Sources said the meeting may skirt the numerous disagreements with Trump -- who has accused tech companies of being overvalued -- in favor of a focus on shared priorities.

"If he can reform the tax code, reduce regulation, and negotiate better trade deals, the U.S. technology community will be stronger and more competitive than ever," Oracle Chief Executive Safra Catz, who will attend the meeting, said in a statement.

The tech luminaries, including Apple Inc's Tim Cook, Facebook Inc's Sheryl Sandberg and Tesla Motors Inc's Elon Musk, will get a chance to promote their priorities like strong encryption and liability protections from content shared by their users.The meeting is billed as an introductory session, said four sources briefed on the talks, all of whom requested anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

Other expected participants include Alphabet Inc's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, Microsoft Corp's Satya Nadella, and Ginni Rometty from IBM , sources said.

The CEOs of Airbnb and Uber were invited but are not attending. Uber's Travis Kalanick will instead be traveling in India all week, according to a person familiar with his plans.

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'SOME HESITATION'

Trump clashed with Silicon Valley on several issues during the campaign, including immigration, government surveillance and encryption, and his surprise victory last month alarmed many companies that feared he might follow through on his pledges. He has said that many tech companies are overvalued by investors.

"You look at some of these tech stocks that are so, so weak as a concept and a company and they're selling for so much money," he told Reuters in an interview in May.

Those concerns have not been assuaged in recent weeks as Trump has threatened to upset trade relationships with China, a key market for U.S. tech companies, and appoint officials who favor expanded surveillance programs.

"For some of the companies, there was some hesitation about whether to attend" because of sharp political and personal differences with Trump, one tech industry source said.

Nearly 600 employees of technology companies pledged in an open letter on Tuesday to refuse to help Trump's administration build a data registry to track people based on their religion or assist in mass deportations.

Silicon Valley enjoyed a warm rapport with President Barack Obama and heavily supported Democrat Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.

Schmidt was photographed on election night at Clinton headquarters wearing a staff badge, and Musk said in interviews before the election that Trump's character reflected poorly on the United States.

Despite those tensions, Trump named Musk to a business advisory council that will give private-sector input to Trump after he takes office on Jan. 20. Uber's Kalanick was also appointed to the council.

From the employees of the 10 largest Fortune 500 tech companies, Trump raised just $179,400 from 982 campaign donors who contributed more than $200. Clinton raised $4.4 million from the employees of the same companies, with more than 20,400 donations, a Reuters review of contribution data found.

Trump publicly bashed the industry during the campaign. He urged his supporters to boycott Apple products over the company's refusal to help the FBI unlock an iPhone associated with last year's San Bernardino, California, shootings, threatened antitrust action against Amazon and demanded that tech companies build their products in the United States.

Trump has also been an opponent of the Obama administration's net neutrality rules barring internet service providers from obstructing or slowing consumer access to web content. Two advisers to his Federal Communications Commission transition team are opponents of the rules, as are the two Republicans on the FCC.

Last week, the two Republicans on the panel urged a quick reversal of many Obama policies and one, Commissioner Ajit Pai, said he believed that net neutrality's "days are numbered."

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan, Grant Smith, Heather Somerville, Steve Holland and Jim Finkle; Editing by Peter Cooney and Alistair Bell)