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Monday, April 30, 2018

What's behind the meeting between Trump and Merkel?

Por Damian

President Donald Trump received German Chancellor Angela Merkel last Friday at the White House, for a meeting focused on highly sensitive issues such as trade tensions, NATO and the future of the nuclear agreement signed with Iran in 2015. Trump greeted the German head of state as "an extraordinary woman" and said the two governments are "working on different issues, including trade, including NATO and military issues".

Merkel had paid a visit to Trump in March of last year, but the obvious differences in style between the two and the clear coldness in the personal treatment did not arouse many illusions about the bilateral relationship. The German leader landed on Thursday in Washington and at night was discreetly seen with some assistants eating a hamburger in a restaurant, far from all protocol.

But beyond the differences in style between the volcanic Trump and the discreet Merkel, the agenda that the two must address includes at least two issues of extreme sensitivity. The first refers to the growing commercial tensions between Washington and Berlin. In March, the US government imposed heavy import tariffs on steel and aluminum, but adopted a temporary exemption for the countries of the European Union.

As France did during the visit of Emmanuel Macron, this week Merkel seeks to convince Trump of the convenience that this exemption is not only temporary but permanent. Last Thursday, a senior official of the German government revealed that Berlin has no illusions about the tax exemption, and that customs tariffs will be effective as of next Tuesday, May 1.

As for his part, Trump's chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said on Thursday that Washington could maintain the tariff exemption for EU countries if that block agrees to make concessions, and mentioned in particular the auto market.

The second critical point of the agenda is the agreement signed in 2015 by the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia with Iran to end their nuclear program. Trump shows his inclination to abandon that agreement, a step that other signatory countries have criticized with more or less intensity.

This week, Trump and Macron spoke of a "new" agreement with Iran to complement the pact signed in 2015, an idea that Russia and Iran have already rejected outright.

This very Friday, in Brussels, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left floating doubts about the continuity of the United States in the treaty with Iran. Trump has until May 12 to inform the US Congress if he believes that Iran meets the agreement or not, a decision on which Washington's permanence in that multilateral understanding will depend.

Another issue that can filter into the agenda of Merkel's visit is the question of the German contribution to NATO, since Trump has criticized that European countries do not fulfill their financial responsibility with this military alliance.

At the same meeting in Brussels, Pompeo said it is "essential" that NATO members meet their commitments regarding defense spending. When questioned about whether Germany was doing enough in relation to its financial commitments in NATO, Pompeo was direct while replying: "No. They should reach the objectives they agreed on".