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Donald Trump and Angela Merkel fail to overcome differences on trade, Iran and Russian gas despite show of apparent warmth

Other issues that divide the German chancellor and the US president include tariffs on European steel and aluminium products, and Berlin’s military spending

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 April, 2018, 12:53am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 April, 2018, 5:41am

Despite a show of friendship and warmth, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump were unable to overcome differences on trade at a White House meeting on Friday.

Looming US tariffs on European steel and aluminium products, the Iran deal, a planned Russian gas pipeline running under the Baltic Sea to Germany, and Berlin’s military spending are the many issues that divide the two heads of state. 

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With Trump poised to impose tariffs on steel soon that will impact European exports, Merkel said the decision is now in Trump’s hands on whether to grant exemptions to European Union nations. 

“The president will decide. That’s very clear,” Merkel told a joint news conference with Trump after the US president complained about the US-European trade imbalance, particularly in regards to automobiles.  

“We had an exchange of views. The decision lies with the president,” she said. 

Merkel also said she could see negotiating a bilateral trade deal between the EU and the United States, saying the World Trade Organisation has been unable to deliver multilateral agreements.  

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Trump said he wanted a “reciprocal” trade relationship with Germany and other European nations and wanted Germany and other Nato allies to pay more for the common defence. 

“We need a reciprocal relationship, which we don’t have … We’re working on it and we want to make it more fair and the chancellor wants to make it more fair,” Trump said. 

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 recent 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 in the Oval Office, 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. 

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. 

Trump will decide by May 12 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.