Merkel, Trump at­tempt to side­step dif­fer­ences

Pres­i­dent had tough words for Ger­man leader in the past.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ken Thomas and Jill Colvin

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.

EVAN VUCCI / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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