Trump and Merkel Meet One on One, but Don’t See Eye to Eye

She said virtually the same thing about the nuclear deal with Iran, which she described as imperfect but as “one piece of the mosaic” of dealing with Iran that could be built upon by Britain, France, Germany and the United States.

“We will now see what sort of decisions are made by American partners,” Ms. Merkel said.

Mr. Trump gave no hint of whether he planned to follow through with his threat to rip up the deal in advance of a May 12 deadline, answering a reporter’s question about whether he would resort to military force to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions with a vague warning.

“They’re not going to be doing nuclear weapons,” Mr. Trump said. “You can bank on it.”

Ms. Merkel’s understated arrival in the White House driveway on Friday for a few hours of closed-door meetings was a sharp contrast to the elaborate state visit to which Mr. Trump treated President Emmanuel Macron of France this week, complete with a 21-gun salute, lavish formal dinner and opera performance in the White House. Like his German counterpart, Mr. Macron also pressed Mr. Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal, but their rapport seemed to almost overshadow their many disputes.

That was not the case with Ms. Merkel and Mr. Trump, who received each other politely on Friday but appeared to find little common ground.

“There was a little bit of honey to go along with the vinegar this time — more than we’ve seen in their other discussions — but the vinegar was certainly there, too,” said Jeffrey Rathke, a senior fellow and the deputy director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “They seemed to have agreed to get along, but without making real progress on the major issues.”

Mr. Trump congratulated Ms. Merkel for her recent election victory and praised her leadership in helping pressure North Korea to come to the table for talks on dismantling its nuclear program, but he also blasted what he called an unfair trade disparity between the United States and Germany — making particular mention of a $50 billion trade deficit in automobile parts — and dwelled once more on his frequent complaint that Germany does not contribute enough financially to NATO.

“Other countries should be paying more, and I’m not saying Germany alone,” Mr. Trump said. “NATO is wonderful, but it helps Europe more than it helps us, and why are we paying the vast majority of the costs?”

The president was referring imprecisely to the goal that the alliance has set that each member spend at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own defense each year. Germany is one of the countries that does not meet that goal.

Ms. Merkel pushed back at times, pointedly referring to the fact that German automobile companies also make cars in the United States that are exported elsewhere, creating American jobs.

“We sometimes may look at issues differently, but generally around on the basis of friendship, on partnership,” Ms. Merkel said.

Despite their disagreements, Mr. Trump greeted Ms. Merkel courteously, tweeting in the hours before they met that he looked forward to her visit, and kissing both of her cheeks when she stepped out of her limousine at the entrance to the West Wing.

“We have a really great relationship,” Mr. Trump told reporters moments later in the Oval Office, seated beside Ms. Merkel for a few moments in front of news cameras before they were to meet privately. “We actually have had a great relationship, right from the beginning, but some people didn’t understand that.”

They shook hands twice, avoiding the awkward tableau that played out last year as Ms. Merkel sat in the office during her first White House visit of the Trump era, when she held out her hand and the president did not grip it and the two seemed openly at odds at a tense news conference.

“It was better than last year,” Christoph von Marschall, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said of Friday’s visit. “Merkel is never the person you can have a bromance with, a touchy-touchy relationship, but the body language was friendlier.”

Dr. von Marschall said Mr. Macron’s approach of “trying to be Trump’s best friend in Europe” and Ms. Merkel’s of keeping a careful distance may have made for a stark contrast, but did not appear to have yielded different results.

Mr. Trump “keeps pressure on his partners by not saying which side he’s leaning,” he said. “There were two different strategies, but the same outcome.”

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