Berlin does not owe any debt to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

Carla Harmon
March 20, 2017

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks as she and US President Donald Trump hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, March 17, 2017.

Donald Trump's spokesman has denied that the USA president refused to shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they say side-by-side in the White House last week.

"Many countries owe vast sums and it is unfair" to the US, Mr Trump said. Quite the opposite, in fact: Hopes remain that the meeting, if nothing else, might help reset the relationship between the two leaders. And he referred to the United States as "a very powerful company", before quickly correcting that to "country".

Shortly thereafter, a member of the German press asked Trump if he ever regretted any of his tweets.

At their press conference Mrs Merkel managed to persuade Mr Trump to state his "strong support" for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Though he said many countries owe "vast sums of money", Trump declined to identify Germany as one of them. After all, Trump spent much of his campaign attacking Merkel, going so far as to invoke her name to insult his opponent, Hillary Clinton, who he said wanted to be "America's Angela Merkel".

Chancellor Merkel restated that Germany was committed to NATO's 2% military spending goal, during her meeting with the US president.


Germany, whose wartime past has led it traditionally to be reticent on defence matters, now spends 1.2 percent of GDP.

When the topic moved to trade, Trump said the USA would do "fantastically well" in its trade relations with Germany. The new US president will come face-to-face with the veteran German leader whom he frequently maligned on the campaign trail, and whose free-trade, open-border politics stand in marked contrast to Trump's nationalistic rhetoric.

Trump administration officials have called the U.S.'s $68-billion trade deficit with Germany an economic injustice and claimed Germany is gaming foreign-exchange markets.

The US trade deficit with Germany was 64.9 billion dollars a year ago, the lowest since 2009, according to the commerce department.

Again in an ostensibly joking manner, but with a tough and dark undertone, the USA president praised German trade negotiators who according to Trump had done a better job than their American counterparts, insinuating again as he had done before that the trade relationship is unbalanced and unfair.

Trump was referring to a disclosure in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the USA had spied in Germany, including monitoring Merkel's cellphone.

Merkel has seemingly softened her stance on the spending issue and did not make mention of her idea to widen the definition of "defense" to somewhat dodge Trump's demands.


Mrs Merkel and Mr Trump appeared to have an awkward meeting at the White House, with the US President seemingly refusing to shake the German Chancellor's hand in front of the media in the Oval Office. Mrs Merkel was every inch the cool, reserved physicist-by-training, at moments giving her American host the icy stare of a Mother Superior told a dirty joke. "By "ordering" Merkel to increase spending, he will make it harder for her to sell that increase at home", he said. "That's something of which I'm deeply convinced".

The claim is prompting growing bipartisan agreement that there's no evidence to back it up and mounting pressure to retract the statement.

The two leaders tried to express their common bonds but showed minimal rapport in their first encounter, a departure from Merkel's warm relations with Obama during his eight years as president.

She said that while she represents German interests, Mr Trump "stands up for, as is right, American interests. That is our task respectively".

"All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television", Trump said during Friday's news conference.

The meetings at the White House included discussions on fighting the Islamic State group, the conflict in Afghanistan and resolving Ukraine's conflict, all matters that require close cooperation between the USA and Germany.


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