Germany owes US, Nato vast sums for defence, Trump tweets

US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC.
US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

This follows meeting with Merkel which highlights their differences

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump yesterday tweeted that Germany must pay the United States more for providing defence, less than 24 hours after his first meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel that highlighted their divides on policy and personality.

"Germany owes vast sums of money to Nato & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defence it provides to Germany!" Mr Trump tweeted early yesterday.

Mr Trump's messages came less than a day after Dr Merkel, at their joint White House press conference, gently rebuked Mr Trump over his criticisms of her and others on social media. "In the period leading up to this visit, I've always said it's much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another, and I think our conversation proved this," the German leader said through a translator.

The closely-watched first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders on Friday started awkwardly and ended even more oddly, with a quip by Mr Trump about wiretapping that left the German leader visibly bewildered.

Dr Merkel had arrived at a snowy White House hoping to reverse a chill in relations after Mr Trump's incendiary election rhetoric.

Mr Trump's messages came less than a day after Dr Merkel, at their joint White House press conference, gently rebuked him over his criticisms of her and others on social media. "In the period leading up to this visit, I've always said it's much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another, and I think our conversation proved this," she said through a translator.

But stark differences between them on everything from trade to immigration were in full view during the meeting.

Their differences led to uncomfortable moments at a joint news conference thereafter.

Though Dr Merkel appeared relaxed, the body language between them was not especially warm.

The visit began cordially, with the two leaders shaking hands at the entrance of the White House.

But later, sitting side-by-side in the Oval Office, Dr Merkel's suggestion of another handshake went unheard or ignored by Mr Trump - an awkward moment in what are usually highly scripted occasions.

She frequently leaned towards him but he stared straight ahead.

She was stony-faced as Mr Trump ripped into Washington's Nato allies for not paying for their "fair share" for transatlantic defence.

The US President also stood by unproven claims that the Obama administration tapped his phones, and expressed solidarity with a surprised Dr Merkel. "As far as wiretapping, I guess, by this past administration, at least we have something in common," he said to Dr Merkel, who looked bewildered.

In 2013, the German government said it had information that the US may have monitored Dr Merkel's mobile phone, prompting her to call then President Barack Obama to demand clarification.

Mr Trump, who as a presidential candidate had criticised Dr Merkel for allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees into Germany, said immigration was a privilege, not a right.

The German leader hinted at differences, saying: "This is obviously something we had an exchange of views about."

Despite their differences, observers have said Dr Merkel - who had close relations with Mr Obama and Mr George W. Bush - is likely to seek a strong working relationship with the new US President.

"Those who know the Chancellor know that she has a knack for winning over people in personal discussions. I am sure that Donald Trump will not be immune," said Mr Juergen Hardt, a conservative lawmaker who helps coordinate transatlantic relations for the German government.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 19, 2017, with the headline 'Germany owes US, Nato vast sums for defence, Trump tweets'. Print Edition | Subscribe