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Despite warmth, Merkel and Trump still differ on trade and NATO

Merkel’s quick trip came the same week as a three-day state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, who, like Merkel, pressed Trump on trade.

world Updated: Apr 28, 2018 22:48 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Trump Merkel meeting,Donald Trump,Angela Merkel
After their last White House meeting drew attention when the two leaders did not shake hands in the Oval Office, Trump made a point of doing just that, twice, while congratulating the German chancellor on her recent election win. (REUTERS)

German Chancellor Angel Merkel became the second European ally of the US to return home this week after failing to convince President Donald Trump to change his mind on the Iran deal and trade. And tensions over Nato spending remained unresolved.

Merkel met Trump for more than three hours during a starkly understated White House visit in contrast to the pomp and show surrounding French President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit earlier in the week. But the results were identical.

Trump has still not said he agreed with the Europeans to stay in the Iran deal. And Macron and Merkel received no significant assurances from him on exemption from tariffs on steel and aluminium that are slated to expire on May 1.

Trump and Merkel displayed new warmth though, eager perhaps to put behind the awkwardness of their previous encounter. Trump received Merkel with a handshake and kiss on each cheek and congratulated her on her recent re-election.

He told reporters, “We have a really great relationship … right from the beginning, but some people didn’t understand that.”

But their remarks at a joint news briefing indicated there had been no significant progress on differences over Iran, trade and Nato. Asked about their discussion on the Iran deal, Merkel said it’s been her position that the deal is “anything but perfect” and that it is “just one piece of a mosaic”.

But she ended by revealing a continuing lack of agreement - “we will now see what …decisions are made by American partners”.

Trump did not give away much at the news conference, but indicated he had not veered around to the view of his European allies. “They’re not going to be doing nuclear weapons. You can bank on it,” Trump said when asked about the Iran deal, which faces a May 12 deadline for recertification by the president to keep the US in it for another 90 days, which he has signalled he wont give.

Earlier in the week, Macron suggested a comprehensive “new deal with Iran” to address Trump’s concerns and prevent him from jeopardising the deal, which will most likely collapse if the US pulled out. Iran too has threatened to withdraw in retaliation.

Merkel revealed a similar lack of progress in discussions on trade. “We had an exchange of views,” she said. “The decision lies with the president.”

Trump, who spoke about the trade imbalance between the US and EU, had temporarily exempted the EU and a handful of countries from the new tariffs — 25% on steel and 10& on aluminium — but it was not immediately clear if he would extend them in the coming days.

Trump also did not hesitate to re-litigate his case for Nato member countries to increase their spending on their own military up to the stipulated 2%, which he has persistently misstated as contribution to the alliance. “Other countries should be paying more, and I’m not saying Germany alone,” he said.

“Nato is wonderful, but it helps Europe more than it helps us, and why are we paying the vast majority of the costs?”

First Published: Apr 28, 2018 10:22 IST