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Trump, Merkel, are cordial but not in agreement

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Donald Trump

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday in Washington. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel displayed a more cordial relationship Friday than they did last year as they met for talks at the White House, but afterward still had not resolved their differences on the Iran nuclear deal or U.S. tariffs.

Over a working lunch at the White House, Merkel sought to follow up on the messages French President Emmanuel Macron delivered earlier in the week, seeking ways to keep Trump from pulling out from the Iran deal and from raising tariffs on European steel and aluminum on May 1.

At a joint news conference afterward, Merkel acknowledged that decisions on both Iran and tariffs remain in the hands of Trump — who did not reveal what he plans to do about either issue.

Merkel said she told Trump she agrees the Iran nuclear deal “is anything but perfect” but that it was “one building block on which we can build up the structure.”

Trump declined to say if he had a military or other plan in mind for Iran and its leaders if he does decide to withdraw from the deal. But he said, “They’re not going to be doing nuclear weapons, you can bank on it.”

Trump acknowledged that his “America first” policies left him with low popularity ratings in Germany and other European countries. “But you have to understand that means I’m doing a good job, because I represent the United States,” he said. “Angela is representing Germany. She is doing a fantastic job. My predecessors did not do a good job.”

Trump and Merkel also said they discussed the emerging efforts at peace between North and South Korea, civil war and ISIS in Syria, and a range of other issues.

Trump stuck to his hard line on trade and emphasized the need for Germany to ante up its contributions to NATO.

“We need a reciprocal relationship, which we don’t have,” Trump said. “The United States right now has a trade deficit with the European Union of $151 billion, and the chancellor and I have discussed that today at length, and we’re working on it.”

Merkel acknowledged that Germany and Europe need “to take their destiny into their own hands” and not rely only on the United States.

Last year, Trump and Merkel appeared cool and distant — they didn’t even shake hands. But this year, they kissed each other on both cheeks upon Merkel’s arrival, shook hands before and after their lunch, and praised each other in their remarks — a performance still more restrained than the relationship between Trump and Macron.

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