Germany 'owes vast sums' to NATO, US for defense

The meetings at the White House included discussions on strengthening North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, fighting the Islamic State group, the conflict in Afghanistan and resolving Ukraine's conflict, all matters that require close co-operation between the USA and Germany.

The stark difference between their immigration policies surfaced again occasionally in the course of their news conference - with Trump pointedly asserting that "immigration is a privilege, not a right".

The change in Chancellor Merkel's tone is not very surprising, German academic, economist and professor Richard Werner believes. Mr Trump was dyspeptic, defensive and visibly irritated by press questions about his latest controversial tweets.

The two leaders did not show any signs of agreement on several pending issues, including North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and defense expenditures.

Those comments appeared aimed at making a case to Trump on the benefits of the European Union. He catalogued some of those resentments.

"NATO does not have a debt account", von der Leyen said, according to her ministry.

Spicer was also defiant Friday, telling reporters, "I don't think we regret anything".

Mrs Merkel's response was subtle but brutal.

On economic matters, the Chancellor said she hoped Trump would consider reopening discussions on the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed pact between the USA and the European Union.

She said that in the automobile sector, for example, it was important to clarify whether data belonged to carmakers or software manufacturers because it was possible to develop new products with the data about clients.

The U.S. president welcomed Merkel outside the White House West Wing and ushered her into the lobby to introduce her to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. Left unspoken was the point that it is easy, even dangerously easy, to let such distinct national interests provoke a clash. Trump needs to remember that he doesn't need to crack jokes like he is still on reality television's "The Apprentice".

Mrs Merkel had no desire to pick an open fight. "She has all this experience".

The German leader also came prepared.

"We said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on TV", Trump said. In that preview of his "America First" views, almost 30 years ago, Mr Trump accused allies of subsidising exports while free-riding on American security, growling: "I'd throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country".

Coincidentally, Merkel was the subject of USA surveillance, which was revealed during the Obama administration in leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Both as a candidate and as president-elect, Trump had some harsh words for the German leader, saying she was "ruining Germany" and had "made a catastrophic mistake" in welcoming more than 1 million migrants and refugees in recent years. He has appalled the German government with his open admiration for the iron-fisted nationalism of Mr Putin, his hints that he might lift sanctions imposed on Russian Federation for its invasion of Ukraine, and his suggestions that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is obsolete. (Russia, for its part, keeps tanks and missiles stocked right up against the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation border.) At last month's conference, Artis Pabriks, a former defense minister of Latvia, responded curtly: "For me, as a Latvian, it sounds a little bit bitter that support for my borders and the security of my country will be challenged because some other European nations will not pay their share". He did not look at Merkel, although it was not clear whether the leaders heard the request.

"At least we have something in common, perhaps", Trump said casually, referring to 2013 reports that the USA was monitoring Merkel's cellphone conversations.

Trump said trade agreements have led to greater trade deficits.

In the very same series of tweets, Trump hit out at Merkel's Germany for failing to meet its financial obligations to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, in what has been a tense subject for the two countries. Still, it was among several news reports Spicer referenced in his briefing Thursday as part of an angry defense of the president's claims.

"Joking about the U.S. surveillance of Merkel is probably the most tone deaf moment so far of Trump's time on the worldwide stage", saidStephen Farnsworth, a scholar of the presidency and the media at Mary Washington University.

The British government reacted with unusually open anger, calling the claim "utterly ridiculous". "We said nothing", the president said.

Or as Merkel told Saarbruecker Zeitung: "It's always better to talk with each other than about each other".

But, Germans argue, they make up for this in other ways. This is not normal.

  • Salvatore Jensen