U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a cold meeting at the White House on Friday, exposing their differences on key issues such as migration and international trade.
The ice-cold atmosphere between the two leaders was brutally evident when the two posed for photographers and cameramen in the Oval Office and Trump avoided a handshake.
At the insistent urging of the photographers by the gesture, Merkel asked Trump if he wanted to shake hands, but the American president did not even respond.
Both leaders held a joint press conference in which the bulk of the questions were addressed to Trump, whether for his controversial health care reform proposal, or his even more controversial denunciation of Barack Obama for espionage.
When asked about his allegation of being spied on by Obama during the election, Trump joked that he and Merkel had “one thing in common,” as the German leader’s communications were intercepted by the National Security Agency (NSA). Merkel did not laugh at the joke.
In the interview, Trump was in favor of fair and reciprocal trade, and rejected that he could be seen as an “isolationist.”
When asked by Merkel at a press conference about the effects of the White House’s “isolationist” policies, Trump stepped in to deny that view and say that it favors “fair” trade.
“I do not believe in isolationist policies, I think a trade policy must be fair, and the United States has been treated very, very unfairly by a number of countries and that has to end, but I am not an isolationist,” he said.
The president said he defends “free trade, but our free trade has led us to a lot of bad things,” such as a heavy trade deficit and “accumulation of debts.”
The Trump administration has accused Germany of using an undervalued euro to gain export advantages and have a hefty trade surplus with the United States.
Merkel said that in her vision, a trade “is right when the two sides win, and that is the spirit that should guide the negotiations between the United States and the European Union.”
For Merkel, “globalization must be defined with an open mind.” The head of the German government said that the “success of Germany” is directly related to its membership of the European Union.
The president had already defined the British decision to leave the European Union as “wonderful,” a view that contrasts sharply with that of Merkel.
In another thorny issue, Trump also said that in his conversation with Merkel she had reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but called on the bloc countries to “pay what they owe” to the United States and to update their financial contributions to the military alliance.
“I have reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO and also the need for our allies to pay their share of defense costs,” Trump said.
“Many nations owe huge sums for years and that’s unfair to the United States,” he said. “These nations must pay what they owe,” Trump said.
At another time during the delicate press conference, Trump made a direct reference to a sensitive issue for Germany — a country that receives thousands of immigrants and refugees — as it relates to migration and national security.
“Immigration is a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must always be put in the first place,” said the president, whose most recent anti-immigration decree was blocked by the courts once again.
This meeting was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but a snowstorm that lashed the eastern United States forced a postponement.
The rigidity of the meeting contrasted with expectations, although moderate, shown days before on both sides of the Atlantic.
As the meeting approached, the U.S. administration had emphasized the strength of the relationship with Germany, and Trump’s intention to take advantage of the chancellor’s experience, particularly on the Ukrainian theme and how to approach Russian president Vladimir Putin.
A senior White House official had anticipated a “cordial and very positive meeting.” The chancellor travels with “the open mind,” said a German government official. “It’s always better to talk together than to talk about each other.”
[Featured image by Pat Benic-Pool/Getty Images]