BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning to hold her first meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington on March 14, the White House confirmed, adding that a joint press conference was likely.
While former US president Barack Obama had labelled Merkel an “outstanding partner,” there has been little known contact between the German leader and Trump since he took office.
Following Trump’s shock election, Merkel reminded the billionaire of democratic values in their first phone conversation.
Any “close cooperation” must be on the basis of the “values of democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law and human dignity, regardless of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political belief,” she said at the time.
The two leaders will come together as the trans-Atlantic relationship faces its biggest test in decades.
The meeting is a chance for the two leaders to present their world views to each other face to face after Trump’s turbulent early weeks as president. Concerns among European leaders include a US shift toward protectionism and differences over the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), Russia and climate change.
Merkel met Vice-President Mike Pence at a security conference in Munich two weeks ago in an attempt to establish a rapport between the two governments. “No nation can resolve the world’s problems alone,” Merkel told the conference. “These great global crises can only be resolved together.”
As she campaigns for a fourth term in September elections, Merkel has spoken out strongly in favour of a multilateral trade agenda that Trump has called into question. The US president called Merkel’s open-door refugee policy “insane” while on the campaign trail, once predicting that she wouldn’t be re-elected as chancellor. The two are also expected to meet at the German-hosted Group of 20 summit in Hamburg in July.
To prepare for their first meeting, Merkel was said around the time of his inauguration to be poring over old interviews and video of Trump, seeking clues on how to influence and read the US president.
Europe’s longest-serving leader and the billionaire-turned-president will have no shortage of topics to discuss. Merkel has condemned Trump’s migration restrictions, pushed back on his administration’s claims about manipulation of the euro’s exchange rate, criticised efforts to divide the European Union and warned that America will still need allies.
For his part, Trump frequently expressed contempt for Merkel and her migration policy as she struggled with more than 1 million asylum seekers who arrived in Germany over the past two years. While her party’s poll numbers have declined, Merkel’s popularity hasn’t dropped significantly.
“You watch what happens to Angela Merkel, who I always thought of as a very good leader until she did this,” Trump told a campaign rally in Virginia last August. “Angela, what happened?”
Last month’s European visit by Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defence Secretary James Mattis brought a measure of reassurance to Nato allies that the US will stand by its commitments. Tillerson also said the US is committed to German-French peace efforts in eastern Ukraine.
Merkel confronts her own challenges in seeking to forge a relationship with Trump. Germany’s Social Democrats have largely closed the poll gap Merkel’s party this year after appointing Martin Schulz to challenge her. Schulz has scored political points on the campaign trail by criticising Trump.
“There will be no bashing with me, no badmouthing the EU,” Schulz told a rally this week, drawing a contrast with the US president.