By Andreas Rinke
BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces difficult talks next Friday with U.S. President Donald Trump at a time when Washington and Berlin are at odds over a range of issues from trade to Iran, her transatlantic coordinator said on Friday.
The cautious Merkel has failed to establish a good personal rapport with the brash Trump, and the mood music of her one-day working visit to the White House is likely to contrast sharply with that of French President Emmanuel Macron’s three-day state visit to the United States that also takes place next week.
Despite their big differences in age and political views, Macron, 40, a cerebral centrist, gets on well with the 71-year-old right-wing Republican U.S. leader, whereas Merkel, 63, and Trump did not even speak for over five months before March 1.
“The visit definitely won’t be easy,” said Peter Beyer, a member of Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who has just taken over the role of transatlantic coordinator at a time of growing U.S.-Europe tensions.
However, he dismissed any suggestion that Merkel would get inferior treatment to Macron, who arrives in the United States on Monday, or to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has played golf with Trump.
“There is no time to be wasted on etiquette,” Beyer told Reuters of Merkel’s trip, adding: “To be honest, I can’t imagine the chancellor playing golf.”
“I think one has to see the Macron and Merkel visits as one,” he said. “Macron will take care of the nice pictures and play his role. Merkel will deliver the hard work and play hers.”
Merkel and Macron are working closely to reform the euro zone and strengthen the European Union as it tries to maintain a united front – despite the impending departure of Britain, one of its biggest member states – in the face of an increasingly protectionist Trump administration and an assertive Russia.
An exemption from U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports granted to the European Union expires on May 1.
“The trade issue is definitely the most pressing problem,” said Beyer.
“It is illusionary to solve all problems by May 1. The goal must be on the one hand to reach an extension, and on the other the Europeans must of course be exempted from the U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum.”
Another hot topic will be a multinational Iran nuclear deal.
Trump has given the European signatories – Germany, France and Britain – a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the 2015 nuclear deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, or he will refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.
“The agreement is not at all as bad as Trump paints it,” said Beyer. “The world is better with than without agreements.”
Merkel must also convince Trump that Germany is delivering in foreign and defense policy.
Trump is pressing the European allies to meet NATO’s target of spending two percent of economic output on defense, suggesting the United States may not defend countries that do not. Germany spent just 1.13 percent of GDP on defense in 2017.
“The Americans have certainly made clear that they expect more from the German military,” said Beyer.
“Merkel must make clear what Germany is already delivering,” he added. “This ranges from foreign missions from Mali to Afghanistan to humanitarian aid in Syria. Germany has committed and is committed to NATO’s 2-percent target.”
(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Gareth Jones)