Life In Berlin: Angela Merkel Goes To Washington

Mar 20, 2017

Last Friday, Chancellor Merkel and President Trump had their first face-to-face meeting at the White House in Washington D.C. I talked with Martin Klingst, Senior Political Correspondent for Die Zeit about their meeting and current German U.S. relations.

"Mr. Klingst, how did Chancellor Merkel perform in your opinion?"

"I think she performed quite well," Klingst tells me. "She stressed that we are a Western community based on certain values. She also stressed the importance of free trade because this is the basis of the post-World War II order, the international liberal order which is based on common values, democracy, freedom and free trade. It was a bit tricky afterwards when he then tweeted that Germany should pay its debt, that Germany did not pay as much for NATO as it should have done. I think this was pretty awkward and you don’t do this as a President, you don’t talk to a leader and five minutes later you tweet."

"You already mentioned awkward: Many journalists described this first face-to-face meeting of President Trump and Chancellor Merkel as awkward. Were there any surprises to you?" I ask.

"Often if there is a new President, the first meetings are always a bit awkward and I think this is normal when you look back. When President Obama was elected, Obama had to learn this transatlantic relation. He didn’t know Merkel, he thought 'She is stubborn' and she thought 'He is aloof,' but Trump also has to learn transatlantic relations, but the difference is he comes with a destructive mood."

"After the visit there was also some criticism. Germany’s Social Democrats criticized the Chancellor for her commitment to spend more money on defense. What’s your take on that?"

"I do think that Germany has to pay more for defense," Klingst responds. "I think we are in a very risky situation with the Ukraine and Eastern Europe and the threats coming from Russia, so I think we have to pay more. Security policy is not only defense, it's also foreign aid, and it’s hard power and soft power, so I think you should probably see how you balance this."

"Do think German-U.S relations look more promising than a week ago?"

"I am hesitant to say so. It’s good that President Trump has said that he is backing NATO. I hope also that some of his advisors, that in the end, that they can convince him that the national, international liberal order is so important and that he has to support it."