German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the White House Friday for a one-day working meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. The meeting follows a three-day state visit to the United States by French President Emmanuel Macon.
The back-to-back visits to Washington are seen as a joint effort to persuade President 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 so-called “bromance” was on full display during Macron’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 Erik Jones, director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University.
Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, told VOA he expected Merkel to take a more confrontational and adversarial approach toward the Trump administration than the French president.
“The Germans have been a lot more critical of Trump’s foreign and economic policies, 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.
“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,” he added.
Heather Conley, the Europe program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told reporters the visits by the two European leaders this week will be dubbed “the save the Iran nuclear agreement trip.”
During his visit, Macron repeatedly urged Trump and the 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 previous 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 activities in Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon.
Trump again called the deal “insane” and “ridiculous” during Macron’s visit, but gave no indication as to whether he will pull the U.S. out of the agreement.
Macron, however, told reporters at the end of his Washington visit that he believes Trump will withdraw from the deal, despite Macron’s appeals for the U.S. to continue to honor the pact.
“My view is … that he will get rid of this deal on his own, for domestic reasons,” said Macron, who did not cite specific reasons for his prediction.
Trans-Atlantic trade will be another crucial issue during Merkel’s visit. Jeff Rathke, deputy director of the Europe program at the CSIS, said this issue is particularly crucial for Germany.
“Germany is the largest EU economy. It is a trade-driven economy,“ Rathke 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 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 U.S. 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. “I don’t think they are bringing a big bag to carry these things home with.”
“I think 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,” he predicted.