WASHINGTON: After accusing German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the campaign trail of "ruining Germany" by welcoming refugees, President Trump will have his first face-to-face meeting with the German leader at the White House on Tuesday.
The two were expected to discuss strengthening the NATO alliance, collaborating to fight terrorism and taking steps to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, White House officials said today. Trump's first encounter will be aimed at building a personal rapport with a European partner who was among former President Barack Obama's strongest allies and international confidantes, according to the officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity despite the president's recent criticism of anonymous sources.
Merkel, however, will need to look past Trump's past comments, when he accused her of "ruining Germany" because of her acceptance of refugees. Trump often claimed that his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, was running to be "America's Angela Merkel" and argued that Germany was in the midst of crisis.
White House officials said Trump would press Germany to set an example on the need for NATO members to spend more on defense, which Germany has resisted. NATO's 28-member countries committed in 2014 to spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense within a decade but only the U.S. and four other members of the post-World War II military coalition are in compliance.
Trump referred to NATO as "obsolete" prior to his inauguration. But, he has since told European leaders he agrees on the "fundamental importance" of the military alliance, a message that was reinforced by Vice President Mike Pence during his recent trip to Europe. The meeting with Merkel will also allow Trump to discuss peace efforts in Ukraine.
Pence and other U.S. officials have said Russia must adhere to a 2015 deal to end fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. White House officials said Trump was eager to hear Merkel's views on her interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Many European allies have been rattled by Trump's positive statements about Putin and the meeting will come amid questions about Trump associates' connections to Russia. The White House said the two leaders may also discuss the Paris accord on climate change.
Trump vowed during his campaign to withdraw from the climate agreement, suggesting that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese to hurt U.S. competitiveness. But the administration said it is still formulating its policy on the issue ahead of the G7 meeting in Italy in May and the G20 gathering in Germany in July.