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Trump Tops Agenda At Merkel Press Conference


German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a press conference today in Berlin, and she took a lot of questions about President Trump. NPR's Martin Kaste was there. He's with me now. Hi, Martin.


KING: So President Trump's really been going after Germany the past couple weeks. He's criticized it for letting in too many migrants. He has accused Germany of being under Russian control. What did Angela Merkel say about him?

KASTE: Well, for the last year or so, Merkel has been pretty consistent in sort of her message that the European Union and Germany particularly can't necessarily count on the United States anymore to lead the international order, you know, for better or worse, as she put it when she said that again today. You know, that's not a rejection the United States but sort of a sense of realism that, sometimes, the U.S. might not necessarily be on the same team on certain issues. But she's been really diplomatic about all of this despite all of the - you know, she just won't take the bait from Trump.

When reporters once again today were trying to sort of lure her into venting about him, she just wouldn't do it. They tried sort of joking questions, saying, you know, would she like to spend her vacation with him? Her vacation's coming up now, you know? She wouldn't even crack a smile. And you get the sense that she doesn't see any benefit in kind of engaging in a war of words with him. And, you know, when she was specifically asked why she thinks Trump has singled Germany out for criticism, this is what she had to say.


CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) I haven't done the research into what the motivations might be. I just try to answer with my own arguments. We surely have very close ties to the U.S. when it comes to trade. And among the European countries, we have especially intensive trade with America. So maybe we've become representative of a larger situation.

KING: I mean, this is a really substantive answer. She's suggesting that Trump sees Germany as a symbol for bigger problems, like the American trade deficit. The U.S., of course, has put tariffs on Europe. What did she say about that?

KASTE: Well, the World Trade situation is a big concern for her, and she really hit that point hard today. She calls this growing international trade war, basically, very serious. And she contrasted it to what she saw as the international spirit of cooperation during the financial crisis 10 years ago. She says this is sort of the opposite feeling. And she really hopes, she says, that the EU and the U.S. can still work something out. The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is going to D.C. next week to try to find, in her words, some basis for talks. But she says if that doesn't work, there might be countermeasures, as she put it.

KING: That's interesting. Did she have anything to say about President Trump meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin?

KASTE: Well, again, she was asked about this in a way that reporters were hoping would, you know, make for good copy. She wouldn't take the bait again. In fact, instead of criticizing, you know, the apparent closeness between Trump and Putin, it was quite the opposite. She said she welcomes the fact that these two presidents are meeting. Here, again, is a bit of what she said about that.


MERKEL: (Through interpreter) I believe that it should become normal again for Russian and American presidents to meet because probably 90 percent of the nuclear arsenal is in the hands of these two countries. So just on the basis of disarmament, there's a lot for them to talk about.

KING: Again, a very, very, very diplomatic answer, isn't it? NPR's Martin Kaste in Berlin. Martin, thanks so much.

KASTE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.