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Showing warmth, Merkel and Trump meet over Iran and trade

Angela Merkel she said it was important to her to make her first trip out of Europe since establishing her administration to Washington.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a joint press conference with US President Donald Trump at the White House on 27 April 2018 in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP.a

WASHINGTON - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump put on a display of warmth and friendship during a White House meeting on Friday despite differences over trade and Iran that have sparked tensions between the two allies.

After their last White House meeting drew attention when the two leaders did not shake hands in the Oval Office, Trump made a point of doing just that, twice, while congratulating the German chancellor on her election win.

“We have a really great relationship, and we actually have had a great relationship right from the beginning, but some people didn’t understand that,” Trump said, calling Merkel a “very extraordinary woman.”

Merkel acknowledged that it took a while to form a government after heavy election losses to the far-right, but she said it was important to her to make her first trip out of Europe since establishing her administration to Washington.

The cautious Merkel has not established a particularly strong personal rapport with the brash Trump, and the mood of her one-day working visit contrasted sharply with the tactile “bromance” between Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Chemistry aside, Merkel will try to make more progress than Macron, who, before heading home after a three-day state visit to Washington, acknowledged that Trump was likely to pull out of the multinational Iran nuclear deal.

The Iran deal, looming US tariffs on European steel and aluminium 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 and likely to come up at their working lunch.

DEFENCE SPENDING

When asked if Germany was doing enough to reach a Nato target for member countries to spend 2% of economic output on defence annually, new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news conference in Brussels:

“No...(Germany) should meet the goals that they agreed to...that’s the expectation, not only for Germany but for everyone. We’re hopeful that at the Nato summit that every Nato partner will deliver a credible plan to achieve that goal.”

Trump said he did not expect to come to an agreement on Iran during their meeting.

“I think we’ll be talking about Iran probably, but I don’t necessarily expect it one way or the other,” he said. “We’ll be having discussions on Iran, we’ll be having discussions on trade.”

Macron made the European position on the Iran nuclear deal clear 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 nearing agreeing a package they hope could persuade Trump to save the pact. This gives Merkel something to work with.

Trump will decide by 12 May whether to revive US sanctions on Iran. Doing so would be a serious blow to the nuclear deal, which many Western countries sees as essential for stopping Tehran developing a nuclear bomb.

Ahead of Merkel’s trip, German officials said they expected US tariffs on European steel and aluminium products to kick in on 1 May, when an exemption expires. But they said Germany would try to negotiate a broad package including other industries.

“I think the chancellor would prefer a broad dialogue with the Americans. The government is open to extending the package to other duties and trade barriers,” one official said.

In Washington, a White House official said the United States would press Germany about trade deficits that “pose risks to global economic stability”, and “would like to remove barriers ... to trade so that we can level the playing field”.

“We want to work with Berlin on global unfair trading practices because those are impacting our economies in equal measure,” he said.

In Berlin, the German officials 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.

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