Germany's Merkel visits White House without illusions, but with hope
Merkel says she could see a bilateral trade deal between the EU and the U.S. in the future
Germany's Angela Merkel is visiting U.S. President Donald Trump today with no illusions of matching his "special relationship" with France's Emmanuel Macron, but hoping to foster a broader dialogue on trade — one of a batch of tricky topics likely to be addressed.
The cautious Merkel has failed to establish a good personal rapport with the brash Trump, and the mood of her one-day working visit to the White House will almost certainly contrast sharply with the tactile "bromance" between Trump and Macron.
Yet her trip may prove more productive. Before heading home after a three-day state visit in Washington, Macron acknowledged that, despite his efforts to dissuade Trump from pulling out of the multinational Iran nuclear deal, he remained likely to do so.
How harshly the whole thing will unfold might depend on to what extent Merkel can steer the conversation in the direction of trade and Iran.- Jan Techau, German Marshall Fund of the United States
The Iran deal, looming U.S. tariffs on European steel and aluminum products, a planned Russian gas pipeline running under the Baltic Sea to Germany, and Berlin's military spending are issues that divide Merkel and Trump.
Ahead of the trip, German officials said they expected U.S. tariffs on European steel and aluminum products to kick in on May 1, when an exemption expires. But they said Germany would try to negotiate a broad package including other industries.
Trade, tariffs and defence were all on the agenda as the two leaders took questions from reporters on Friday, as was the recent progress made on the Korean peninsula.
Trump, speaking at a joint news conference with Merkel on Friday, complained that the World Trade Organization has treated the U.S. poorly. He called for "fair and reciprocal trade relationships with our friends and allies."
Merkel said she could see negotiating a bilateral trade deal between the European Union and the United States, saying the World Trade Organization has been unable to deliver multilateral agreements.
"We want trade that is in line with the multilateral trading system of [the] WTO, but we also acknowledge that for many, many years [the] WTO has not been able to bring about international agreements," she said.
"So, I could well envisage such negotiations with the United States."
Trump, meanwhile, renewed his call for NATO allies to increase their defence spending.
The U.S. president has been urging European nations to spend at least two per cent of their GDP on defence — as he has urged since his campaign.
Merkel said Friday that Germany will continue to be a reliable partner within the NATO alliance.
German officials have previously made clear that Merkel was not ready to roll over when faced with Trump's criticism of Germany's trade position or the planned Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
"Our analysis is ... that [the pipeline] does not make us more dependent on Russia," one of the officials said.
EU countries are divided on the merits of Nord Stream 2. Trump could seize on this, as well as Germany's slow progress in moving closer to the NATO defence spending target.
Macron addressed the issue of Iran with Trump ahead of Merkel's visit. On Wednesday, he called on the United States not to abandon the Iran deal as Western envoys said Britain, France and Germany were close to agreeing on a package they hope could persuade Trump to save the pact. This gives Merkel something to work with.
"How harshly the whole thing will unfold might depend on to what extent Merkel can steer the conversation in the direction of trade and Iran," Jan Techau, a director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
"Those are the fields in which her position is stronger because the Europeans are united and Macron has done the prep work."
With files from The Associated Press