Monday 26 June 2017

Donald Trump and Angela Merkel try to smooth over differences at first meeting

President Donald Trump greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Mr Trump was scathing in his criticism of the German leader in the 2016 US election campaign

US president Donald Trump and German chancellor Angela Merkel have tried to sidestep differences after their first meeting at the White House.

Mr Trump said they had at least one thing in common: being wiretapped by the administration of former president Barack Obama.

He repeated his contention that Mr Obama may have tapped his phones in Trump Tower.

He sought to turn it into a joke when asked about concerns raised by the British government that the White House is now citing a debunked claim about UK spies.

"At least we have something in common, perhaps," Mr Trump said, referring to 2014 reports that the US was monitoring Mrs Merkel's mobile phone conversations.

As for the most recent report, Mr Trump said he should not be blamed for quoting a Fox News analyst who had accused British intelligence of helping Mr Obama spy on him.

When a German reporter asked Mr Trump if he regrets any of his commentary on Twitter, he said: "Very seldom."

On another subject, Mr Trump also pushed back against the notion in Europe that his "America First" agenda means he's an isolationist, responding firmly: "I don't believe in an isolationist policy."

The president appeared to bristle at the suggestion from a German reporter, adding, "I don't know what newspaper you're reading, but I guess that would be another example of, as you say, fake news."

Mrs Merkel often attempted a more conciliatory approach, saying she and Mr Trump had not 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 Mr Trump on the benefits of the European Union.

He backed Britain's departure from the EU and has expressed scepticism about multilateral trade agreements.

The two leaders tried to express their common bonds but showed minimal rapport, a departure from Mrs Merkel's warm relations with Mr Obama.

During a photo opportunity in the Oval Office, the two did not shake hands before reporters.

At the start of the news conference, Mrs Merkel sought to break the ice, saying it was "much better to talk to one another than about one another".

She said delicately that while she represents German interests, Mr Trump "stands up for, as is right, American interests".

They were "trying to address also those areas where we disagree but tried to bring people together", she said.

"We need to be fair with each other," Mrs Merkel said, saying 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 Islamic State, the conflict in Afghanistan and resolving Ukraine's conflict, all matters that require close cooperation.

As a candidate, Mr Trump frequently accused the chancellor of "ruining" Germany by allowing an influx of refugees and migrants from Syria and accused his campaign rival, Hillary Clinton, of wanting to be "America's Angela Merkel".

During the news conference, Mr Trump predicted that a new health care law would be passed by a substantial margin and "pretty quickly".

The new president reaffirmed the United States' "strong support" for Nato but reiterated his stance that allies need to "pay their fair share" for defence.

Prior to his inauguration, Mr Trump declared Nato "obsolete" but has since modified his stance, telling European leaders the alliance remains of strategic importance.

When the topic moved to trade, Mr Trump said the US 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 US interests.

He said trade agreements have led to greater trade deficits. The US trade deficit with Germany was 64.9 billion US dollars (£52 billion) last year, the lowest since 2009, according to the Commerce Department.

"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," Mr Trump said.

Mrs Merkel emphasised 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.

AP

Press Association

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