By Reuters and Associated Press, on ABC.net.au, March 18, 2017 (with extensive related reading further below)
‘I reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO as well as the need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defence’
U.S. President Donald Trump has met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House, telling her they have something in common — being wire-tapped by Obama’s administration.
In brushing off the diplomatic row with one of America’s closest allies, Mr Trump also revived another: the Obama administration’s monitoring of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s calls. “At least we have something in common, perhaps,” Mr Trump quipped during a joint news conference after his meeting with Ms Merkel.
Ms Merkel, who was making her first visit to the White House since Mr Trump took office, looked surprised by the President’s comment. The Obama administration’s spying infuriated Germany at the time and risked damaging the U.S. relationship with one of its most important European partners.
On Thursday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer turned to a Fox News analyst’s contention that British electronic intelligence agency GCHQ had helped Mr Obama wire-tap Mr Trump.
Fox News has said it could not independently verify the reports from Andrew Napolitano, a former judge and commentator who has met with Mr Trump, and the GCHQ vigorously denied the charges in a rare public statement, saying the report was “utterly ridiculous and should be ignored”.
British officials complained directly to White House officials after the episode, and Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said it had been assured the White House would not repeat the allegations. The allegations were later described as “arrant nonsense” by U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) deputy chief Richard Ledgett, who added that it would be “epically stupid” for the British Government to do such a thing.
But Mr Trump himself offered no public apologies and suggested there was nothing wrong with the White House repeating what it had heard. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television,” Mr Trump said. “You shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”
Mr Spicer was also defiant, earlier telling reporters: “I don’t think we regret anything.”
Mr Trump and Ms Merkel’s meeting also produced an awkward moment when photographers requested a handshake, prompting her to ask him: “Do you want to have a handshake?” But there was no response from the President, who looked straight ahead with his hands clasped together.
Leaders had ‘exchange of views’
The talks, postponed from Tuesday because of a snowstorm, aimed to represent a restart of a relationship complicated by Mr Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail.
As a presidential candidate, Mr Trump criticised Ms Merkel for allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees into Germany, and accused his campaign rival, Hillary Clinton, of wanting to be “America’s Angela Merkel”.
At the news conference, Ms Merkel hinted at differences, saying: “This is obviously something we had an exchange of views about.”
“I’ve always said it’s much better to talk to one another and not about one another,” she said.
Mr Trump said immigration was not a right and that safety of citizens must come first. “We must protect our citizens from those who seek to spread terrorism, extremism and violence inside our borders. Immigration is a privilege, not a right,” he said.
Mr Trump also pushed back against the notion in Europe that his “America first” agenda means he is an isolationist, responding firmly: “I don’t believe in an isolationist policy.”
He appeared to bristle at the suggestion from a German reporter, adding: “I don’t know what newspaper you’re reading, but I guess that would be another example of, as you say, fake news.”
Mr Trump said he expected the US to do “fantastically well” in trade with Germany, while Ms Merkel said she hoped the United States and the European Union could resume discussions on a trade agreement.
Mr Trump also stated his strong support for NATO and pressed Ms Merkel to meet NATO’s military spending target. “I reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO as well as the need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defence,” Mr Trump said.
Prior to his inauguration, he declared NATO “obsolete” but has since modified his stance, telling European leaders the alliance remains of strategic importance.
The meeting also included discussions on fighting the Islamic State group, the conflict in Afghanistan and resolving Ukraine’s conflict — all matters that require close cooperation between the U.S. and Germany.
Merkel and Trump can’t hide fundamental differences in first visit, by David Smith in Washington and Philip Oltermann in Berlin, The Guardian, March 18, 2017
White House meeting with Trump was catastrophic for Merkel, commentary by John Lee (Mail on Sunday, Ireland edition), published on RT.com‘s ‘Op-Edge’ feature, March 19, 2017
NATO thieves falling out 1: Ex-UK ambassador to the U.S. calls White House wiretap claims ‘gratuitously damaging’, The Guardian, March 19, 2017
NATO thieves falling out 2: Germany rejects Trump’s claim it owes NATO and U.S. ‘vast sums’ for defense, Reuters, March 19, 2017
NATO thieves falling out 3: German military says ‘no debt account at NATO’ after Trump’s ‘vast sums’ comment, RT.com, March 19, 2017