GENEVA - The United Nations reaffirmed on Friday that torture is illegal and that refugees deserve protection, while ducking any direct criticism of remarks made by new US President Donald Trump.

Major human rights groups have denounced Trump’s stance on torture and warned against restoring a CIA secret detention programme for interrogating terror suspects. Trump is also reviewing spending, including at the UN, where the United States is the largest donor. “International human rights law is clear on the absolute prohibition on torture,” UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

Pressed repeatedly to comment on Trump’s remarks this week that torture “works”, Colville noted that prominent US Senators including Republican John McCain, himself a torture victim, and Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who chaired an inquiry on the CIA programme under former President George W. Bush, had spoken out. It was still very early days in terms of how the UN human rights office interacts with the new administration, he said. “We have to work out strategically what is going to be effective.”

The UNHCR was also tepid in its comments on Trump’s moves to restrict refugees. He is expected to sign an executive order that would include a temporary ban on all refugees, and a suspension of visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries. “Of course UNHCR believes that refugees should be offered assistance, protection, opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity,” UNHCR spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci said.

The US Department of Homeland Security has temporarily halted trips by staff to interview refugees abroad ahead of a likely shakeup of refugee policy by Trump, two sources said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely discuss a range of issues in a reported call, including efforts to combat terrorism, White House senior aide Kellyanne Conway said in television interviews on Friday.

Asked about the planned call for Saturday, Conway told CBS’ “This Morning” program: “I assume they will discuss, in the interests of their respective countries, how to come together and work together on issues where you can find common ground and where these two nations could maybe defeat radical terrorism.”

Hollande says US president rule poses ‘challenges’ for Europe

French President Francois Hollande said Friday that US President Donald Trump’s administration poses “challenges” for Europe.

“Let’s speak very frankly, there are challenges, there are the challenges the US administration poses to our trade rules, as well as to our ability to resolve conflicts around the world,” Hollande said in Berlin.

“So we of course have to talk to Donald Trump since he was chosen by the Americans to be their president,” he said at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “But we also have to do so with a European conviction and the promotion of our interests and our values.” Merkel, without mentioning Trump by name, said: “We see that global conditions are changing dramatically and quickly.”  And we must respond to these new challenges, both in terms of defending a free society and defending free trade, as well as in terms of the economic challenges.”

Trump has unsettled his traditional European allies with a range of radical policy plans, from calling NATO “obsolete” to announcing he would rip up a planned transatlantic trade plan.

The billionaire president is due Friday to meet British Prime Minister Theresa May, who is set to lead her country out of the EU after last year’s Brexit vote, in his first official meeting with a foreign leader.