Trump blasts Germany again over trade deficit, NATO

Arne Delfs and Patrick Donahue
Bloomberg News

President Donald Trump blasted Germany anew over trade and defense, ratcheting up a dispute with Chancellor Angela Merkel that risks getting personal and undermining a trans-Atlantic bond that is the bedrock of U.S.-European relations.

Trump’s comments came in an early-morning tweet on Tuesday issued just as Merkel hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Berlin, where they held a joint cabinet meeting and signed cooperation agreements. Modi suggested that India will adhere to the Paris climate accords, while Trump makes up his mind.

“We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military,” the U.S. president posted on Twitter. “This will change.”

The message came minutes after Merkel and Modi held a joint press conference in which the German leader called India a “reliable partner with respect to big projects.” That contrasted with her comments on Sunday that Europe needs to step up as trans-Atlantic ties, which have underpinned German foreign policy since World War II,become “to some extent” less dependable.

“That’s great,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday in reaction to Merkel’s remarks. “That’s what the president called for. The president is getting results and more countries are stepping up their burden sharing.”

Merkel regards her speech on Europe becoming more active internationally as a reflection of the reality during the Ukraine conflict and the refugee crisis, according to a senior German government official with knowledge of her thinking. Her comments may have been interpreted differently in the U.S., causing an uproar, but that’s not her fault, said the official.

Spicer said that Trump feels he and Merkel have a “fairly unbelievable” relationship.

“They get along very well,” he told reporters at the White House. “He has a lot of respect for her.”

Trump’s tweet underscored the deterioration of links with a key NATO ally, yet his timing also highlighted Germany’s web of relations with international partners who broadly share Merkel’s free-trade outlook and conviction on combating climate change. After hosting Modi, Merkel is due to meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday. She’s also looking to French President Emmanuel Macron as an ally in strengthening the euro area.

In a speech to a German-Indian business forum later on Tuesday, Merkel took another tilt at a president elected on a ticket of “America First,” referring to “a whole series of protectionist tendencies” emerging worldwide. She said “it’s necessary to be open to achieve fair trade conditions.”

While it’s unclear whether Merkel has deliberately picked a fight with Trump or misspoken and bitten off more than she can chew, challenging his stance is popular in Germany.

Polls suggest that Merkel has overwhelming backing among German voters, and even among her political opponents, for taking a stand.