US-Germany relations veer toward crisis as Trump fires Twitter broadside

US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose during a family photo at the Greek Theatre during the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, on May 26, 2017.
US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose during a family photo at the Greek Theatre during the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, on May 26, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Relations between the United States and Germany veered further towards crisis on Tuesday (May 30) as President Donald Trump complained about the US trade deficit with Germany and said it must pay more for the Nato military alliance.

“We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military,” he wrote on Twitter. “Very bad for U.S. This will change.”

The tweet follows a volley of criticism from Germany after the president concluded his first official tour abroad on Sunday (May 28), returning from Saudi Arabia, Israel, Brussels and then Italy for a G-7 summit.

In Berlin on Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the United States and Britain may no longer be completely reliable partners.

“Transatlantic ties are of paramount importance to us... but the current situation gives more reasons for... us to take our destiny in our own hands,” Merkel said, stressing that “Europe must become a player active in international affairs.”

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was blunter on Monday (May 29), slamming the US president’s “short-sighted” policies that have “weakened the West” and hurt European interests.

Germany’s centre-left chancellor candidate Martin Schulz accused Trump of destroying Western values and undermining international cooperation.

Speaking to reporters in Berlin, Schulz said Trump was “the destroyer of all Western values”, adding that the US president was undermining the peaceful cooperation of nations based on mutual respect and tolerance.

“One must stand in the way of such a man with his ideology of rearmament,” Schulz added.

Trump has made clear with his latest tweet that he views Germany as a political opponent, said another senior German lawmaker from the Social Democrats. "Donald Trump makes clear with his tweet that he views Germany as a political opponent,” Thomas Oppermann, head of the Social Democrats’ (SPD) parliamentary group, told reporters.

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During his trip, Trump snubbed pressure from G-7 allies to sign up to upholding the 2015 Paris climate accord and berated 23 of Nato’s 28 members – including Germany – for “still not paying what they should be paying” towards the funding of the alliance.

Days earlier, in Saudi Arabia, Trump had presided over the single largest US arms deal in American history, worth US$110 billion (S$152.48 billion) over the next decade and including ships, tanks and anti-missile systems.

Gabriel said on Monday that “anyone who accelerates climate change by weakening environmental protection, who sells more weapons in conflict zones and who does not want to politically resolve religious conflicts is putting peace in Europe at risk”.

Germany’s harsh words for Washington, traditionally a close ally, were highly unusual and came as relations have grown increasingly tenuous.

Merkel on Tuesday repeated her call for Europe to take control of its own destiny, but also dismissed any talk that Germany is shifting away from its old ally and pivoting East.

Trump launched a salvo against German car exports to the United States last week, saying that “the Germans are bad, very bad” during a meeting with senior European officials in Brussels, the German weekly Der Spiegel reported.

He had begun attacking Germany and Merkel during his election campaign last year.

In keeping with his nationalist economic agenda, he hit out in particular at Germany’s substantial trade surplus with the US, threatening to introduce customs duties in retaliation.

After a frosty meeting with Merkel in Washington in March – which he initially described as “GREAT” – he launched a diatribe the following day, accusing Germany of owing “vast sums of money” to Nato and the United States.

For her part, Merkel had called on Trump after his election to uphold the values of Western democracy following a divisive presidential campaign.