[WASHINGTON] Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump fell short of winning an endorsement from House Speaker Paul Ryan Thursday but both men said they had taken a "positive step" toward unifying the party behind the New York billionaire's White House run.
Mr Trump, facing a critical early test of the his general election candidacy, met with Mr Ryan to air their differences, as well as with other Republican leaders.
"Great day in DC with @SpeakerMr Ryan and Republican leadership. Things working out really well!" Mr Trump said on Twitter.
In a joint statement afterward, Mr Trump and Mr Ryan called their meeting a "positive step toward unification" and stressed the need to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in November.
But Mr Ryan, who declared last week that he was "just not ready" to support Mr Trump as the party's flagbearer, withheld his endorsement.
"I think this is going in a positive direction and I think this is a first very encouraging meeting," Mr Ryan told reporters. "But again, in 45 minutes you don't litigate all of the processes and all the issues and the principles that we are talking about."
Despite outstanding differences, Mr Trump appeared to strike a delicate peace with the party establishment he had been so fond of attacking while on the campaign trail.
"While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground," the pair said in their statement.
"We will be having additional discussions, but remain confident there's a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall, and we are totally committed to working together to achieve that goal."
Their talks also included Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, and were followed by a broader meeting between Mr Trump and House GOP leaders, including Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, the top-ranked Republican woman in Congress.
The real estate mogul, who has never run for elective office before, also met with top Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has offered his support of Mr Trump.
Concerns about the tone and substance of Mr Trump's campaign have trickled down to many in the congressional rank and file who fear a Mr Trump nomination could doom their efforts to win the presidency and hold their majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Charlie Dent, a moderate House Republican who was not in Thursday's meetings, told reporters Mr Trump's pilgrimage to Washington was "an opportunity to clear the air."
Mr Trump "has to convince many Americans, including myself, that he's ready to lead this great nation," he said. "At this point I haven't been persuaded, but I'm ready to listen." The brash tycoon's efforts will tell whether he will have the full support of his party as he goes into what promises to be a brutal election fight with Clinton.
Mr Ryan, who at 46 is a generation younger than 69-year-old Mr Trump, took up the speakership last October pledging to modernize the party's image and reach out to minority groups.
But many GOP luminaries have watched aghast as the provocative candidate has insulted Mexicans, demeaned women and called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
In the latest sign he is tacking toward the center as he shifts to the general election, Mr Trump appeared to walk back his call for a Muslim ban.
"It hasn't been called for yet, nobody's done it, this is just a suggestion until we find out what's going on," Mr Trump told Fox News Radio Wednesday.
Mr Ryan said he discussed "core" conservative principles with Mr Trump, including constitutional and right-to-life issues and the separation of powers.
"I do believe that we are now planting the seeds to get ourselves unified, to bridge the gaps and differences," Mr Ryan said.
Outside RNC headquarters about a dozen protesters chanted "Undocumented! Unafraid!" in defiance of Mr Trump's vow to deport millions of illegal immigrants if elected.
Tourists and lawmakers snapped pictures, while one man wore a large papier mache Mr Trump head and rattled off elements of Mr Trump's rhetoric.
Mr Trump ignored the protesters and entered the building through a back door.
While many upper echelon party figures including 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and the two Bush presidents are opposed to Mr Trump, there are signs of a growing move to unite behind him.
The chairmen of seven House committees endorsed the tycoon Wednesday, saying in a statement released by Mr Trump that "it is paramount that we coalesce around the Republican nominee" and maintain GOP majorities in Congress.
Although some Republicans called for a genuine conservative candidate to challenge Mr Trump and Clinton in November, that prospect has dimmed.
"Most of my members believe he's won the nomination the old-fashioned way," said McConnell, who has voiced concern about how a Mr Trump nomination might affect Republican efforts to hold the Senate.
"We know that Hillary Clinton will be four more years of Barack Obama. I think that's going to, in the end, be enough to unify Republicans across the country."
Some anti-Mr Trump die-hards, including Senator Lindsey Graham, argue that Republicans in tough re-election fights would fare better if they separate themselves from The Donald.
But others have downplayed the crisis, saying there was plenty of time for Mr Trump to flesh out his policy positions and develop a more presidential bearing.