Merkel Expected to Press Trump on Trade, Iran Deal
VOA News/Peggy Chang
WHITE HOUSE — German Chancellor Angela Merkel will pay a one-day working visit to the White House on Friday following a three-day state visit by French President Emmanuel Macon.
The back-to-back visits are seen a tag-team effort to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump not to abandon the Iran nuclear deal and to grant permanent exemption of the steel and aluminum tariffs to EU member countries.
While Trump and Macron’s ‘bromance’ was on full display during the French president’s visit, Trump’s relationship with Merkel is unquestionably cooler. It is widely reported that during their inaugural meeting in March 2017, Trump appeared to withhold a handshake with Merkel, and the two leaders did not speak for five months until a phone call on March 1.
“Where Emmanuel Macron is much more successful at charming President Trump, Angela Merkel doesn’t really make the charm offensive a priority and works instead on the basis of principle, common values, and shared interests,” said Eric Jones, Director of European and Eurasian Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Nile Gardiner, Director of Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at Heritage Foundation told VOA he expected Merkel to take a more confrontational and adversarial approach towards the Trump administration than her French counterpart.
“The Germans have been a lot more critical of Trump’s foreign and economic policies,” he said. “And I think Angela Merkel is likely to be adopting a harder line than Macron on certain issues, but she’ll also be keen to make an effort to save the Iran nuclear deal,” he said.
Gardiner added that “it would be interesting to see the degree to which Merkel and Macron put forth the same proposals with regard to strengthening the Iran nuclear deal.”
Indeed, Center for Strategic and International Studies Europe Program Director Heather Conley told reporters the visits by two European leaders this week will be dubbed “the save the Iran nuclear agreement trip.”
During his visit, Macron repeatedly urged Trump and U.S. Congress not to walk away from the 2015 deal the six major powers — the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China — made with Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions that hobbled its economy.
Trump has called the agreement crafted under the Obama administration “the worst deal ever negotiated.” He contends Iran would quickly achieve nuclear capability at the end of the 10-year agreement and often assails its current military adventures in Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon.
Trump again called the deal as “insane” and “ridiculous” during Macron’s visit, but gave no indication as to whether he will pull the U.S. out of the existing nuclear deal with Tehran.
Trans-Atlantic trade will be another crucial issue during Merkel’s visit. Jeff Rathke, Deputy Director of Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies emphasized that this issue is particularly crucial for Germany.
“Germany is the largest EU economy. It is a trade-driven economy,” he said. “I would highlight that the European Union is poised to retaliate if the United States does not extend the exemption on aluminum and steel tariffs, so there is a bit of a threat there of reaction.”
Rathke pointed out Germany has the same concerns as the United States regarding China’s trade practices and its economic role.
“The question is whether they can put aside the relatively less important trans-Atlantic trade disagreements and focus on addressing those much larger and longer-term issues ” he noted.
Other issues expected to be discussed during the bilateral meeting include the importance of the NATO alliance and the way forward in Syria.
Johns Hopkins University professor Erik Jones said he doesn’t think the Europeans have high expectations of changing Trump’s mind on these issues at the end of Merkel’s visit.
“If they get an extension of the waiver on US sanctions, that’s a big deliverable; if they were to get a formal commitment to extend the exemptions on steel tariffs, that would be a deliverable; if they were to get a firm commitment on a potential to restart Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks; that would be a deliverable as well,” he said.
But Jones said he doubts the Europeans “are bringing a big bag to carry these things home with.” He said they are going to bring “a very small folder and hope they’ve got at least something in it when they leave at the end of the day.”