President Donald Trump questioned German Chancellor Angela Merkel about how to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their at times heated discussions at the White House last week, according to two people familiar with the conversations.
Merkel, the longest-serving leader in the European Union, has a well-established history and rivalry with Putin. It’s not clear what advice she offered Trump, though the officials suggested the President at times didn’t really seem to be listening to the answers.
The officials said the one-on-one meeting was calm and Trump “behaved himself” but became agitated at a larger plenary session, which became contentious when he repeatedly raised the issue of Germany’s large trade surplus and its defense spending, which falls below the NATO-recommended threshold.
The White House denied CNN’s account of the discussions.
Trump has long railed on those two issues, both in public and private, but his tone surprised some German officials attending the meetings, who said they felt the session provided a “window into Trump’s mind.”
Trump accused Merkel of being “so protectionist” in her trade policies, and again raised the issue of German automobiles flooding into the United States. Merkel explained that if she lowered barriers for US cars entering Germany, she would have to do the same for other countries.
But Trump demanded to know what Merkel would offer the US if he agreed to extend an exemption on steel and aluminum tariffs.
He adopted a similarly tough approach on defense spending, a bugbear he has railed on since the campaign. Trump told Merkel that “you could raise it to 2 percent tomorrow,” reaching the NATO target.
The officials said Trump was angry and “venting” about both matters during the expanded meeting, which included officials from both leaders’ cabinets.
The tone was very different in the earlier one-on-one meeting with Merkel, which included a discussion of the Iran nuclear deal.
Merkel, along with French President Emmanuel Macron, had traveled to Washington in the hopes of convincing Trump not to rip up the Obama-era agreement. The Germans regarded Macron’s floating of a new deal that addresses Iran’s ballistic missile program and destabilizing efforts in the region as a last-ditch effort to keep Trump from withdrawing.
Not wanting to show signs of European disunity, Merkel largely kept to Macron’s talking points in her meeting but emphasized that any new agreement would build on the existing deal.
Merkel emerged from the talks telling advisers that Trump had said “exactly what she expected” on Iran, including his insistence that the accord amounts to the worst deal ever negotiated.
CNN’s Allie Malloy contributed to this report.