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Merkel meets Trump
Washington (dpa) - US President Donald Trump called on European allies to do their share to support the NATO military alliance and said he would pursue "fair" trade deals as he sat down Friday for the first time with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel has taken sharply different positions from Trump on issues ranging from the refugee crisis to trade and the role of international organizations, but both sides sought to bridge differences as they set the tone for trans-Atlantic relations moving forward. Trump at one point seemed to aim to break the ice with a joke about both leaders being victims of wiretapping. However, their interactions seemed to lack the warmth of the years-long friendship between Merkel and Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, and the two sat silently side by side without shaking hands during an Oval Office press availability.
Asked about relating with Trump, who is a businessman not a career politician, Merkel said people come to politics in different ways and that brings diversity of opinion, "which is good." She admitted that sometimes it was difficult to compromise, but said that was normal. If it weren't, she said, there would be no need for politicians. For example, Trump seemed to criticise Merkel's welcoming stance toward refugees, declaring governments must put the safety of their citizens first. One of Trump's most notable acts has been to seek to restrict immigration to the United States. "We must protect our citizens from those who seek to spread violence," he said. "Immigration is a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must always come first."
Merkel stressed that while Europe must protect its external borders, work needed to be done on immigration and foreign aid, an area which Trump has recently proposed slashing. "This has to be done while looking at the refugees as well, giving them opportunities to shape their own lives where they are; help countries who right now are not in an ability to do so - sometimes because they have civil war," she said.
On trade, Trump insisted he was not an isolationist - just someone who wanted fair trade deals - and declared negotiators for Germany had "done better" than similiar US negotiators. "We don’t want victory, we want fairness. All I want is fairness," he told reporters before the leaders sat down for lunch behind closed doors to discuss economic issues, including Germany's trade balance with the US.
Merkel said she would still like to see the pursuit of a US-European Union trade deal, which she believes would qualify as a bilateral deal of the sort favoured by Trump. The European Union negotiates trade deals on behalf of all its members countries. The leaders had sought to find common ground on economic issues earlier with a round table discussion of US and German business leaders on the importance of vocational training. Trump praised the apprenticeship model that is common in Germany, while Merkel pointed to German businesses that have begun operating similar programmes in the United States.
Merkel said she and Trump discussed Germany's contribution to NATO and its military participation in Afghanistan, which she says Germany will continue. But Trump described European allies as taking advantage of US defence spending, which was "very unfair to the United States. These nations must pay what they owe." However, he thanked Merkel for Germany's commitment of increasing its NATO contributions to 2 per cent of gross domestic product.
The German leader also said she was "very gratified" that the Trump administration is committed to the Minsk process, a framework for peace in Ukraine. "There has to be a safe and secure solution to Ukraine," she said. The meeting had been postponed from Tuesday due to a late winter storm on the US East Coast.