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Trump's Very Awkward Summit With Germany's Merkel

March 18, 2017 7:19 AM
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Trump's Very Awkward Summit With Germany's Merkel

President Donald Trump had his chilliest summit yet with a foreign leader as he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel today for the first time.

Talks began with a warm welcome outside the West Wing but turned cold as Trump blew off an attempted handshake in the Oval Office and disagreed publicly with Merkel on almost every major international issue.

Merkel told him it has always been her belief that it is 'much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another' - a reference to the many disparaging statements Trump made on the campaign trail about her leadership.

As the press conference came to a close, Trump told Merkel 'at least we have something in common, perhaps.' They were both wiretapped by the previous administration, he implied.

The German chancellor did not react. She stood stoically behind a podium to Trump's right as the shocking statement was translated.

Trump had been asked about his claim that Barack Obama surveilled him and a follow-up allegation from his press secretary that Obama may have relied on British intelligence to do it.

At his Friday news conference, Trump denied that his administration was impugning its overseas ally.

Merkel is no stranger to Obama administration wiretapping. She herself was the subject of surveillance during his tenure. The explosive information came out in documents that were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

German newspaper Bild am Sonntag said Obama personally ordered the surveillance of the German leader. Der Spiegel reported that it began under the previous administration, in 2002, and ended in mid-2013.

Trump's administration has provided no proof that Obama monitored his calls or had his Justice Department surveil him or his business. His White House has pointed to news reports like the one on Fox to back up his charge.

After the US's spying on Germany was revealed, Obama apologized and told Merkel that his country would not eavesdrop on her again. The two eventually became close friends.

Trump struggled to put himself on similar footing with his German counterpart on Friday.

He had previously accused her of 'ruining Germany' for allowing an influx of refugees from Syria into her country.

As the two sat down for their first face-to-face meeting since his election, Trump called it a 'great honor' to meet her.

Helping to break the ice at a joint meeting with business executives was Germany's support for apprenticeship programs, something Trump, the former 'Apprentice' star, couldn't help but point out.

'Both Germany and the United States are pioneering job-training programs,' Trump said. Here in the United States, companies have created revolutionary high-tech and online courses and, of course, for decades Germany has been a model for highly successful apprenticeship – that's a name I like, apprentice – apprenticeship programs,' Trump said.

Trump was seated between Merkel and IBM's CEO Ginni Rometty. Execs from BMW, Siemens, and other companies also were there – as was daughter Ivanka Trump.

BMW and Siemens employ tens of tens of thousands of Americans. Many live in Southern states that Trump won in the U.S. election.

On the other side of Rometty sat Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump was also seated next to Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump's praise of the German apprentice model was in contrast to his ripping of the nation's immigration policy. At one point, he predicted the German's would 'riot' over Merkel's policy of accepting refugees.

The two sat awkwardly in the Oval Office earlier while photographers snapped photos.

When Merkel asked for a handshake, Trump looked directly ahead and did not take the opportunity, missing the gesture of friendship, perhaps, as cameras loudly flashed.

But Trump offered warm words for Merkel at the end of his remarks. 'I want to thank you very much. It’s a great honor to have you in the White House,' he said. 'It’s a great honor to have you in the United States, and I look forward to spending time with you,' Trump said.

He repeated the greeting at the top of their joint news conference, but that was it. He did not say, as he had following meetings with other foreign leaders, that he expects the two of them to become great friends. Nor did he gush about his love for her mother country, even though his family has roots in Germany.

'We cherish individual rights, we uphold the rule of law and we seek peace among nations. Our alliance is a symbol of strength and cooperation to the world. It is the foundation of a very, very hopeful future,' he said.

Talking about trade, Trump argued that millions of US workers have been 'left behind' in the age of globalization.

'The United States will respect historic institutions and we will also recognize the right of free people to manage their own destiny,' he stated.

Trump was later cast as an 'isolationist' by a German reporter. 'I'm not an isolationist,' Trump replied, even though the question was directed at Merkel.

Merkel said in her answer, 'We have to protect our external borders...and there we have to work on the basis of mutual interest with our neighbors, migration, immigration, integration, has to be worked on obviously, traffickers have to be stopped.

'But this has to be done by looking at the refugees as well, giving them opportunities to shape their own lives and where they are. Help countries who right now are not an inability to do so, sometimes because they have civil war.

Before Merkel left, the two leaders were to meet once more for lunch. The German head of government said she wanted to talk more than about trade.

'We say this has, trade has to be rendered fairer. There has to be a win-win situation. We can talk about the details of that,' she said.

Merkel indicated at the news conference that she doesn't think trade between her country and Germany has historically been fair, either.

Trump said he wanted a close working relationship with Merkel if he were elected, despite their differences. Their interactions today suggested it may not possible after all of the derisive campaign-time comments he made about her attitude toward refugees.

Since being elected, Trump has held up Germany as a reason for restricted travel and a ban on refugees.

After an Oval Office meeting this morning the leaders of the Western world's most influential counties played nice for the cameras, saying in English and German that it went well.

'We talked about lots of things,' Trump told reporters, without going into detail.

A snowstorm forced them to postpone their plans for a meeting on Tuesday.

The itinerary included discussions on strengthening NATO, fighting the Islamic State group and resolving Ukraine's conflict, all matters that require close cooperation between the U.S. and Germany.

'There has to be a safe and secure solution for Ukraine, but the relationship with Russia has to be improved as well, once the situation there on the ground is clarified,' Merkel said during their news conference.

Beyond those issues, today's sit-down was to be serve as a restart of a relationship complicated by Trump's rhetoric on the campaign trail.

Still, Trump found ways to voice his respect. When a television station in September asked him to name a world leader he admired, he cited Merkel.

'I was very disappointed that, when she, this move with the whole thing on immigration. I think it's a big problem and really, you know, to look at what she's done in the last year and a half. I was always a Merkel person. I thought, really fantastic, but I think she made a very tragic mistake a year and a half ago,' he said.

In his meetings with world leaders since the inauguration, Trump has adopted a more diplomatic public persona.

He recently spent a weekend bonding with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, golfing and dining with Abe at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. He has cultivated a closer friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he has known for years.

But Merkel is used to an altogether different type of American leader, having shared a strong bond with Obama.

She was the last of Obama's key European allies still in power when he left office. And as the leader of Europe's biggest economy and most stable government, Merkel emerged in recent years as the leading voice for a continent struggling with slow growth, identity issues and increased security threats after a string of terrorist attacks.

Reflecting their connection, Obama and his wife called Merkel and her husband on the day before Trump's inauguration to thank her for 'her strong, courageous and steady leadership.' It was Obama's final call with a foreign leader, his advisers said.

Merkel's first major encounter with Trump came as she seeks a fourth term as chancellor in elections later this year. She has acknowledged the contest could be difficult and has stressed a need for stability after Britain's decision to leave the European Union.

She reportedly has studied Trump's speeches and policies in advance of her trip, eager to find areas for cooperation.

Trump has rattled European leaders with his 'America first' mantra. He also backed Brexit and is skeptical of multilateral trade agreements.

Merkel reiterated her belief that a strong EU remains in America's strategic and economic interests, a message she shared last month in Munich with Vice President Mike Pence.


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