Merkel Arrives at White House to High Stakes, Low Expectations

(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived at the White House on Friday for a set of meetings with President Donald Trump as tensions between Europe and the U.S. show no signs of easing on issues ranging from trade to the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump greeted Merkel by kissing her on each cheek and later in the Oval Office said it was a “great honor” to host her. Trump told reporters they planned to discuss trade and the military, adding that they have a “really great relationship.”

“We actually have had a great relationship right from the beginning, but some people didn’t understand that,” Trump said. “But we understand it and that’s what’s important. A very extraordinary woman.”

Merkel said it was important to use her first trip outside Europe after recent German elections to “deepen” the relationship with the U.S. further.

Merkel’s brief visit to the U.S. comes three days after Trump hosted French President Emmanuel Macron for the U.S. leader’s first state dinner. Macron left the meeting convinced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Iran nuclear accord, and he received no assurances that the European Union would be spared from tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Merkel will face an even more uphill battle than Macron. The president has repeatedly bemoaned the U.S. trade deficit with Germany and has said the nation doesn’t spend enough on its military. And unlike Macron, Merkel has been unable to forge much of a personal rapport with Trump.

Her goal remains to win an extension of Trump’s tariff waiver for the EU by offering him longer-term talks on trade, including the prospect of renegotiating levies on industrial goods, a German official told reporters in Berlin on Thursday. Germany’s other immediate aim is to avert possible U.S. sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, opposed by the U.S., which would increase Russian natural gas exports to Western Europe.

Persuading Trump to stick with the Iran deal may be a lost cause -- if Macron couldn’t do it over two days of dinners and meetings, Merkel’s odds of success in only about two hours are dim.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.