WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made no attempt to hide their disagreements over the future of the Iran nuclear deal and trade relations between the United States and Europe, after a day of White House meetings that appeared to have produced no breakthroughs on major disputes.
Mr Trump and Dr Merkel, who have had a chilly relationship from the start, steered away from the kind of awkward confrontations that have characterised past meetings, going out of their way to compliment each other and accentuate areas of agreement.
But Mr Trump pressed his complaint that the trade relationship between the US and Europe was "unfair", and Dr Merkel made it clear that the President had not made the commitment she was seeking - permanently exempting the European Union from the steel and aluminium tariffs he imposed last month.
The US has given the EU a temporary exemption until May 1. Mr Trump will decide then whether to make the exemption permanent.
"We need a reciprocal relationship, which we don't have," Mr Trump said, standing beside Dr Merkel at a news conference in the ornate East Room of the White House. "The Chancellor and I have discussed it today at length, and we're working on it."
Earlier, the President greeted Dr Merkel courteously, kissing both her cheeks when she stepped out of her limousine at the entrance to the West Wing.
NO REAL PROGRESS
They seemed to have agreed to get along, but without making real progress on the major issues.
MR JEFFREY RATHKE, a senior fellow and deputy director of the Europe programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
At the Oval Office, they shook hands twice, unlike last year, when Dr Merkel held out her hand and the President did not grip it and the two seemed openly at odds at a tense news conference.
Mr Trump congratulated Dr Merkel for her recent election victory and praised her leadership in helping pressure North Korea to come to the table for talks on dismantling its nuclear programme.
He also blasted what he called an unfair trade disparity between the US and Germany - making particular mention of a US$50 billion (S$66 billion) trade deficit in car parts - and dwelt once more on his frequent complaint that Germany does not contribute enough financially to Nato.
Dr Merkel pushed back at times, pointedly referring to the fact that German car companies also make cars in the US that are exported elsewhere, creating US jobs.
"We sometimes may look at issues differently, but generally around on the basis of friendship, on partnership," she said.
Dr Merkel said Mr Trump had given her no preview of what he might decide regarding the tariffs.
"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," she said. "And the decision lies with the President."
She said virtually the same thing about the nuclear deal with Iran, which she described as imperfect but as "one piece of the mosaic" of dealing with Iran that could be built upon by Britain, France, Germany and the US.
Mr Trump gave no hint of whether he planned to follow through with his threat to rip up the deal in advance of a May 12 deadline.
The few hours of the closed-door meeting between Dr Merkel and Mr Trump was a sharp contrast to the elaborate state visit to which Mr Trump treated French President Emmanuel Macron last week.
"They seemed to have agreed to get along, but without making real progress on the major issues," said Mr Jeffrey Rathke, a senior fellow and deputy director of the Europe programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
German business leaders yesterday voiced disappointment over the outcome of the talks, saying they feared Mr Trump would impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.
"The threatened tariffs remain a major burden on transatlantic relations," said Mr Dieter Kempf, president of the BDI industry body.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the EU will be exempted from the unfair US tariffs," said Mr Volker Treier of the DIHK industry and commerce chambers.