UK should take time to identify priorities after Brexit vote, says Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel told Britain to "take a moment" over its plans to quit the European Union but warned against leaving the negotiations "up in the air" as she met Theresa May for talks.
EU leaders have made clear that they want Britain to swiftly begin its exit from the bloc.
But the German Chancellor said the UK should take its time to sort out its priorities, after meeting Mrs May in Berlin.
The Prime Minister confirmed she would not trigger the two-year Article 50 process of leaving the European Union before the end of the year.
During her first overseas trip since taking the keys to No 10, Mrs May insisted that Germany would "remain a vital partner and a special friend for us" after Brexit.
Mrs Merkel said Germany was "listening" to what Britain wants but underlined that negotiations will not begin until the UK sets out its stall.
She said Germany would "stand up for our interests just as Britain does it for its own citizens", although it would be "in a spirit of friendship and on a basis of many shared convictions".
Mrs Merkel said: "I think it is absolutely understandable that only a few days after the referendum, only a few days after a new government has formed in Britain, the government will have to take a moment first and try to seek to identify its interests."
She indicated that although there could not be "formal or informal" negotiations on a Brexit deal before Article 50 is triggered, there would be discussions about the situation.
"Irrespective of the decision that the people in the UK have taken to leave the EU, we are linked by very close bonds of friendship, of partnership," she said.
Mrs May said that negotiating Britain's successful exit from the EU "will take time, and it will require serious and detailed work".
She said: "I want to work with Chancellor Merkel and my colleagues around the European Council in a constructive spirit to make this a sensible and orderly departure.
"All of us will need time to prepare for these negotiations and the United Kingdom will not invoke Article 50 until our objectives are clear.
"That is why I have said already that this will not happen before the end of this year.
"I understand this timescale will not please everyone but I think it is important to provide clarity on that now.
"We should strive for a solution which respects the decision of British voters, but also respects the interests of our European partners."
Mrs Merkel said it was "absolutely understandable" that the UK would want to delay the opening of formal talks on its withdrawal from the EU to give itself time to work out its negotiating position.
"It is to our advantage to have the UK define its negotiating stance in great detail and clarity and clearly outline how it sees its future relationship with the EU," said the German Chancellor.
"These have to be parallel processes. You cannot completely cut off the bonds and then after a long, winding negotiating process come up with how one sees the future relationship, so a good negotiating process and a sensible and constructive one is in all of our interests.
"So we will wait for the moment when the UK invokes this and applies for this and then we will put our guidelines on the table as to how we see the future relationship."