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of an­other hand­shake was ig­nored by Trump — an awk­ward mo­ment in what are usu­ally highly-scripted oc­ca­sions.

There was never go­ing to be an easy rap­port be­tween the cau­tious Ger­man chan­cel­lor and im­pul­sive US pres­i­dent. Merkel, a physi­cist, had been former pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s clos­est in­ter­na­tional part­ner.

Be­fore com­ing to of­fice in Jan­uary, Trump had set the tone by call­ing Merkel’s acceptance of refugees a “cat­a­strophic mis­take” and sug­gested she was “ru­in­ing Ger­many”.

In a sim­i­lar vein, Merkel has sought to re­mind — some in the White House would say lec­ture — the real es­tate mogul about demo­cratic val­ues.

Com­ments like that have prompted some of Trump’s fiercest crit­ics to de­clare Merkel the new “leader of the free world” — a moniker nor­mally taken up by the oc­cu­pant of the White House.

Dur­ing the press con­fer­ence, Merkel said: “It’s much, much bet­ter to talk to one an­other and not about one an­other, and I think our con­ver­sa­tion proved this.”

But even the lighter mo­ments were tinged with ten­sion. Amid a furore over Trump’s un­founded al­le­ga­tions that he was wire­tapped by Obama, the new pres­i­dent cracked a joke re­fer­ring to past rev­e­la­tions that Merkel’s phone had also been bugged by his Demo­cratic pre­de­ces­sor.

“As far as wire­tap­ping, I guess, by this past ad­min­is­tra­tion, at least we have some­thing in com­mon per­haps,” he said.

Merkel ap­peared not to find the hu­mour in what had been a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal scan­dal.

And nei­ther side tried to make small talk about Trump’s own back­ground.

His fam­ily hails from Kall­stadt, a vil­lage nes­tled in south­west Ger­many’s lush wine coun­try. His grand­par­ents left for Amer­ica more than a cen­tury ago flee­ing poverty and later, af­ter a brief re­turn, trou­ble with the law. AFP

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