Stark differences between US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on everything from trade to immigration were in full view during an icy first meeting at the White House on Friday.
In a frequently awkward joint news conference, Trump and Merkel showed little common ground as they addressed a host of thorny issues including NATO, defense spending and free-trade deals.
For most of the 30 minutes in the East Room, Merkel was stony-faced as Trump ripped into Washington’s NATO allies for not paying for their “fair share” for transatlantic defense and demanded “fair and reciprocal trade” deals.
The veteran German chancellor had arrived at a snowy White House hoping to reverse a chill in relations after Trump’s incendiary election rhetoric.
The visit began cordially, with the pair shaking hands at the entrance of the White House.
However, later, sitting side-by-side in the Oval Office, Merkel’s suggestion of another handshake went unheard or ignored by Trump — an awkward moment in what are usually highly scripted occasions.
There was never going to be an easy rapport between the cautious German chancellor and impulsive US president.
For years, Merkel — a trained physicist — had been former US president Barack Obama’s closest international partner, with the two sharing a strong rapport and a similar deliberative approach.
Before coming to office in January, Trump had set the tone by calling Merkel’s acceptance of refugees a “catastrophic mistake” and suggested she was “ruining Germany.”
In a similar vein, Merkel has sought to remind — some in the White House would say lecture — the real-estate mogul about democratic values.
Comments like that have prompted some of Trump’s fiercest critics to declare Merkel the new “leader of the free world” — a moniker normally taken up by the occupant of the White House.
“It’s much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another, and I think our conversation proved this,” Merkel said.