ICY FIRST MEETING
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