Chancellor Merkel and President Trump have held their first joint press conference at the White House. Items on the agenda for the first meetings between the two leaders are NATO, immigration and global trade.
President Donald Trump welcomed Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House for their first meeting on Friday.
They sat for photos in the Oval Office following their talks and roundtable discussion with US and German business leaders. Trump had quipped with journalists, urging them to “send a good picture back to Germany, please.” Despite awkward body language from both leaders, Merkel said the talks went “very well.”
Trump is the third US President Merkel has met as chancellor. She took time in the press conference to appreciate the role of the US in rebuilding Germany after World War II through the Marshall Plan, and in reunifying Germany after 1989.
On defense and NATO spending
Trump reaffirmed his “strong support” for the NATO alliance, but he also said he had pressed the chancellor to increase Germany’s defense budget and to meet the 2 percent of GDP target for defense spending. NATO allies, the president said, need to “pay their fair share” for the cost of defense.
“Many nations owe vast sums of money” and that situation is “very unfair to the United States,” Trump said.
Merkel pledged to continue to increase Germany’s defense budget and reaffirmed her commitment of achieving the 2 percent of GDP threshold by 2024. Germany’s current level is 1.2 percent. Merkel also stressed the need to find a solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
In her opening remarks at the press conference, Merkel said it was important to “talk to one another and not about one another.”
Ahead of their press conference, Trump hosted a roundtable discussion with the chancellor and a delegation of German and US business leaders, where he voiced his praise for Germany’s vocational apprenticeship schemes.
Ahead of the chancellor’s trip to Washington, German political and business leaders had expressed concerns that Trump’s “America First” policy favors US exports. Answering a reporter’s question about protectionism at the press conference in the White House on Friday, Trump pushed back against any accusations that his economic policy was isolationist.
“I’m a free trader but also a fair trader,” Trump said, adding that he expected “fair and reciprocal policies” in Washington’s relationship with Berlin. However, Trump did not rule out adopting more protectionist policies and said previous trade policies had left millions of US citizens being “behind by international commerce.”
Ahead of Merkel and Trump’s meeting, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble spoke out against the US president’s brand of protectionism during a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Baden-Baden.
Perhaps the most anticipated remarks from both leaders were on each country’s divergent immigration policies.
However, just days after his executive order temporarily suspending the US refugee program and barring people from a number of Muslim-majority countries, Trump reaffirmed his position that “Immigration is a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must always come first, without question.”
Merkel did not speak in depth on immigration but said she agreed with the president in stressing the importance of tackling illegal immigration and combatting radical threats. She confirmed the need for strong borders but also to help people in their own countries in Africa and the Middle East, before they became refugees.
On immigration, Trump had berated the German chancellor on multiple occasions last year and accused her of “ruining Germany” for her open-door refugee policy.
Since the height of the migrant crisis in the fall of 2015, Germany has settled almost a million refugees from war-torn states such as Iraq and Syria.
“You watch what happens to Angela Merkel, who I always thought of as a very good leader until she did this,” Trump, then a candidate, said at a rally in Virginia in August. “I don’t know what went wrong with her. Angela, what happened?”
dm/jm (AFP, Reuters)