Merkel, Trump attempt to sidestep differences
President had tough words for German leader in the past.
Though presenting a study in contrasts, President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a similar tack Friday in awkwardly sidestepping their differences after their first meeting at the White House.
Trump, in his campaign and as president-elect, had attacked Merkel’s welcoming stance toward refugees, calling it a “catastrophic mistake,” and accused Merkel of favoring his rival, Hillary Clinton.
But Friday, neither referred to those sharp criticisms in a joint press conference.
Trump said the U.S. would do “fantastically well” in its trade relations with Germany. The president has been deeply critical of foreign trade and national security agreements but suggested he was only trying to revise trade deals to better serve U.S. interests, rather than pull back from the world entirely.
“The negotiators for Germany have done a far better job than the negotiators for the United States, but hopefully we can even it out. We don’t want victory, we want fairness,” Trump said.
Merkel, taking a conciliatory tone, emphasized the need for trade deals that fairly benefit both countries.
“That is the spirit I think in which we ought to be guided in negotiating any agreement between the United States of America and the EU,” she said.
Merkel added that she and Trump had not yet had much time to discuss economic issues. She said the “success of Germans has always been one where the German success is one side of the coin and the other side of the coin has been European unity and European integration. That’s something of which I’m deeply convinced.”
Those comments appeared aimed at making a case to Trump on the benefits of the European Union. Trump backed Britain’s departure from the EU and has expressed skepticism of about the union.
While avoiding outright hostility, Trump and Merkel showed minimal rapport in their first encounter, a departure from Merkel’s warm relations with Barack Obama during his eight years as president. During a photo op in the Oval Office, the two did not shake hands before reporters.
At the start of the news conference, Merkel sought to break the ice, saying that it was “much better to talk to one another than about one another.”
Merkel said delicately that while she represents German interests, Trump “stands up for, as is right, American interests. That is our task respectively.” She said they were “trying to address also those areas where we disagree but tried to bring people together.”
“We need to be fair with each other,” Merkel said, adding that both countries were expecting “that something good comes out of it for their own people.”
The meetings at the White House included discussions on strengthening NATO, fighting the Islamic State, the conflict in Afghanistan and resolving Ukraine’s conflict, all matters that require close cooperation between the U.S. and Germany.
Trump reaffirmed the United States’ “strong support” for NATO but reiterated his stance that NATO allies need to “pay their fair share” for the cost of defense. Trump said many countries owe “vast sums of money” but he declined to identify Germany as one of those nations.
Prior to his inauguration, Trump declared NATO “obsolete” but has since modified his stance, telling European leaders the alliance remains of strategic importance.
Only the U.S. and four other members currently reach the benchmark of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense.
Germany currently spends 1.23 percent of its GDP on defense, but it is being increased.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens as President Donald Trump speaks during their joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Friday.