US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday appeared to make little headway on high-stakes trade and security disagreements, but avoided the public bickering that has plagued their year-old relationship.
Merkel left the White House unable to secure a promise from Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal or to provide a permanent European exemption to trade tariffs.
Unless Trump acts by Tuesday, tariffs on European steel and aluminum would take effect, likely followed by EU countermeasures that could spark a transatlantic trade war.
“The president will decide. That is very clear,” Merkel said, papering over differences during a joint press conference at the White House.
“We had an exchange of views on the current state of affairs of the negotiations and the respective assessments on where we stand on this, and the decision lies with the president,” she said.
On the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump might scuttle on Saturday next week, Merkel conceded it was “anything but perfect,” but is worth holding on to nonetheless.
Trump has demanded the “terrible” deal, which gave Tehran sanctions relief in return for curbs on controversial nuclear activities, be renegotiated, something Europeans see as unrealistic, dangerous and unnecessary.
Merkel, like French President Emmanuel Macron who visited the White House earlier this week, tried to sell Trump on the idea of the deal being a stepping stone to a longer-term, broader agreement.
“It will not solve all the problems with Iran. It is one piece of the mosaic, one building block, if you like, on which we can build up this structure,” she said.
Trump was as noncommittal as he was with Macron, giving no sense that he was ready to bend, or that he has an alternative plan.
“They will not be doing nuclear weapons. That I can tell you. Okay?” Trump said when asked about his own proposal, refusing to rule out military action.
Despite lingering disagreements, Trump tempered his previously harsh criticism of low German defense spending, open immigration policies and export-focused trade.
Hailing Merkel as an “extraordinary woman,” Trump said: “We must have a fair and reciprocal trading relationship with our friends and partners.”
“I’m committed to working with Chancellor Merkel to reduce barriers to United States exports, to remedy these trade imbalances, and deepen our economic ties,” he said.
Trump also renewed his criticism of NATO, saying it was more useful for Europe than for the US, but in less sharp terms than before.
“NATO is wonderful, but it helps Europe more than it helps us,” he said, returning to a pet peeve.
“Why are we paying a vast majority of the costs?” Trump said. “We’re working on those things. It’s been unfair, and I don’t blame the chancellor.”
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