While campaigning for president, Donald Trump slammed Chancellor Angela Merkel for “ruining” Germany. He called her decision to allow more than a million refugees into Germany “insane.” He even predicted that Germans would overthrow her.
Trump, now the president of the United States, and Merkel, still the leader of Germany, will come face to face for the first time Friday at the White House.
Merkel, ranked as the second most powerful person in the world by Forbes last year, is expected to ignore Trump’s criticism altogether and move forward on forming a relationship with the brash new leader of one of Germany’s closest allies.
After nearly a dozen years as chancellor, Merkel is known for her successful track record on dealing with notoriously difficult leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. German media report that she has been studying Trump’s speeches and interviews to prepare for the visit.
“She’s used to awkward meetings. She’s handled them quite well,” said Constanze Stelzenmueller, an expert on German, European and trans-Atlantic policy at the Brookings Institution, a research center. “You don’t linger over the personal.”
Merkel had good relationships with Trump’s predecessors, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama. Despite allegations that the Obama administration wiretapped her cellphone, Merkel and Obama maintained a close partnership. She was the last world leader he called before leaving office.
Trump and Merkel differ on substance and style. They disagree on values and how those values translate to policy, including immigration, trade, defense spending and the role of the European Union. A Trump adviser recently accused Germany of depressing the euro to gain a trade advantage.
President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet for the first time Friday at the White House, followed by a news conference.
“I think Germany views the United States with equal portions of puzzlement and concern at the moment,” said Jeff Rathke, senior fellow and deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The two leaders are expected to meet, have lunch and host a joint news conference. Perhaps in the hopes of relating to a former businessman, Merkel will be joined by the CEOs of automaker BMW and industrial firm Siemens.
Trump and Merkel are not expected to announce any new agreements. Their meeting was scheduled for Tuesday but then postponed three days after a snowstorm on the East Coast.
They’ve spoken by phone but have never met. Vice President Mike Pence visited with Merkel in Germany recently. Their aides have met.
The list of possible topics for their talk is long: NATO, the United Nations, the fight against the Islamic State, the situation in the Middle East, Afghanistan, North Korea, climate change and defense.
The stakes for this meeting . . . and for this relationship even more so, are very high.
Heather Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Trump will seek Merkel’s advice in dealing with Putin, according to the White House, and many other world leaders hope that Merkel, who speaks Russian and was raised in East Germany, will be able to educate him.
“The president will be very interested in hearing the chancellor’s views on her experience interacting with Putin,” said a senior administration official with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly. “Of course, she’s been doing this for more than a decade. She’s met with Putin, I think, for at least a couple of dozen times. And so he’s going to be very interested in hearing her insights and what it’s like to deal with the Russians.”
Trump, who has long been accused of being too friendly with Russia and Putin, has said he would consider lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea, along with suggesting that he’d be open to recognizing Crimea as Russian territory. U.S. officials are investigating Russia’s attempts to influence the November American election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided Trump.
“His comments on Russia are worrisome to European leaders,” said James Kirchick, a fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative who’s author of the forthcoming book “The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age.” “She’s going to try to set him straight.”
Merkel will stress to Trump the importance of the European Union. In turn, Trump will press Merkel for Germany’s commitment to abide by a NATO guideline to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their military budget, according to the White House.
“He does believe that Germany, as one of the largest economies within NATO, should be setting an example and should be leading by example, as we do from the United States,” the official said.
Merkel did not respond to Trump’s criticism during the campaign. Since then, she has pushed back against some of his policies.
She criticized his original travel ban on citizens from seven majority-Muslim nations, and explained to him over the phone that the Geneva Conventions require countries to protect refugees on humanitarian grounds.
She defended the news media after Trump tweeted that journalists are “the enemy of the American people.”
“I stand by a free and independent press and have great respect for journalists,” she said last month at the Munich Security Conference, which Pence attended.
Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01