U.S. President Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, right, stand for photographs while arriving to the West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Angela Merkel Ruffled at Prospect of More Trump Hardball Tactics, Sources Say

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump is starting to get under Angela Merkel’s skin.

The German chancellor emerged from a bruising week of diplomacy with her most vigorous defense yet of the multilateral order threatened by Trump on Saturday. Merkel’s push back was shaped by her alarm at the U.S.’s increasingly aggressive maneuvers, according to three people familiar with her thinking.

Angela Merkel Ruffled at Prospect of More Trump Hardball Tactics, Sources Say

Merkel’s chancellery team is concerned at the prospect of further hardball tactics from the Trump administration after fending off U.S. efforts to turn her European Union partners against a new gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, the people said, asking not to be named discussing private conversations.

U.S. diplomats leaned on officials in Paris and Brussels to join their opposition to the Nord Stream 2 project over the past 10 days as Merkel thrashed out an agreement over the plan with France, the people said.

Angela Merkel Ruffled at Prospect of More Trump Hardball Tactics, Sources Say

Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday signaled that the U.S. is not ready to accept defeat on the issue just yet. He urged EU nations to reject the undersea pipeline during a speech to world leaders including Merkel at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

The U.S. effort to drive a wedge between Germany and its EU allies had helped spur Merkel to deliver one of her most impassioned speeches when she addressed the meeting earlier in the day. Her defense of the multilateral order challenged by Trump earned a standing ovation from the audience of presidents, prime ministers and senior defense officials.

Angela Merkel Ruffled at Prospect of More Trump Hardball Tactics, Sources Say

“Merkel was on fire,” former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt said on Twitter. “Her #MSC2019 speech had force and conviction as seldom before.”

The chancellor was “pleased” with the response to her address, Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Monday at a regular news conference in Berlin. He emphasized that she also had some “really very good discussions afterward” with political partners from other nations.

Pipeline Politics

Trump’s opposition to the 9.5 billion-euro ($10.8 billion) Baltic Sea project -- he’s pilloried Merkel for paying “billions” to Russia for gas –- has become a focus of the increasing tensions between the two countries.

It also threatened to leave Merkel isolated in Europe, where many leaders are concerned about increasing their reliance on Russian energy and the risks of undermining Ukraine. The government in Kiev earns about $2 billion a year in transit fees for Russian gas pumped through a competing pipeline.

U.S. opposition appeared to gain traction on Feb. 6 with a report in Sueddeutsche Zeitung that France would oppose Germany and back EU regulations that would pose a hurdle to the pipeline. That prompted a flurry of talks leading to a French-German agreement on Feb. 8, diluting the restrictions in an EU directive.

A French official said President Emmanuel Macron had faced enormous U.S. pressure on Nord Stream, but rejected charges that it had influenced its position.

Indeed, American diplomats were still putting pressure on Romania, which holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency, as late as Tuesday, as the European Parliament approved the compromise language, according to two officials.

Geopolitical Dimension

Merkel defended the project in response to a question from a Ukrainian lawmaker on Saturday, pledging to ensure the Baltic pipeline won’t undermine Ukraine’s position as a gas-transit nation. Germany will also begin importing U.S. liquefied natural gas, she said.

She also added a geopolitical dimension to her argument, warning that isolating Russia at a moment of tectonic shifts in global relations was not in Europe’s interests.

“Consciously shutting Russia out politically, I think that’s also wrong,” Merkel said. “Europe can’t have a geopolitical interest in halting all relations to Russia.”

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