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Trump hails ‘great relationship’ with Merkel as German leader visits White House

However, the US president implicitly scolded Germany for not meeting its defence spending obligations to Nato.

US President Donald Trump called German Chancellor Angela Merkel an “extraordinary woman” and disputed any idea that their rapport was frosty as he welcomed her to the White House.

“We have a really great relationship. We actually have had a great relationship from the beginning,” he said.

Though her visit will be short on pomp, Ms Merkel’s message was similar to French president Emmanuel Macron’s – that America and Europe need to bury the hatchet on key issues, from global trade to international security.

In a joint press conference on Friday afternoon, it was apparent that despite the back-to-back visits, Mr Trump’s divisions with Europe are still substantial.

He is widely expected to withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear accord next month, despite pleas from Mr Macron earlier this week and Ms Merkel on Friday.

Ms Merkel used her meeting with Mr Trump to try to paper over the differences, calling the Obama-era agreement a “first step” towards curtailing and containing Iran’s regional ambitions and suggesting openness to a side agreement.

Mr Trump has said he was open to new negotiations with Iran, but has not said whether he would heed European calls for the US to stay in the deal, which aims to restrict Iran’s nuclear efforts, while those talks are under way. His decision is expected by May 12.

On trade, Ms Merkel said there was little progress on seeking permanent exemptions for the EU from Mr Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs.

“The decision lies with the president,” she said.

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President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the East Room of the White House in Washington (Susan Walsh/AP)

Mr Trump implicitly scolded Germany for not meeting its defence spending obligations to Nato, saying it is “essential that our Nato allies increase their financial contribution” to the pact.

Ms Merkel said Germany’s latest budget will take defence spending to 1.3% of GDP. She acknowledged that’s far short of the 2% goal but said Germany is still aiming for that over time.

In the hours before Ms Merkel’s arrival at the White House, Mr Trump himself took note of their limited schedule, which was to include a 30-minute Oval Office meeting, followed by a working lunch and joint news conference.

“Look forward to meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany today,” he tweeted. “So much to discuss, so little time! It will be good for both of our great countries!”

While Mr Macron and Mr Trump went to great lengths to display their affection through hearty handshakes, hugs – and, at times, air kisses – the president has not displayed the same chemistry with Ms Merkel.

In their first White House meeting last spring, Mr Trump seemed to ignore photographers’ prompts to give Ms Merkel the traditional photo-op handshake.

And the German chancellor looked on unhappily when Mr Trump upbraided Nato nations last summer for not spending enough on defence as he stood in Nato’s gleaming new Brussels headquarters.

This time, the two exchanged a handshake in the Oval Office.

Kellyanne Conway, a senior counsellor to Mr Trump, said that the president’s relationships with Ms Merkel and Mr Macron do not need to be compared.

“France and Germany are great allies. I think every leader is different, every relationship is different,” she said at the White House.

“We’re very happy that Chancellor Merkel is making another trip here.”

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