German-U.S. Ties

Behind the Smiles

Merkel trifft Trump
The smiles were strained at times. And there was a handshake that didn't happen. Source: Evan Vucci/AP/dpa

“Apprenticeships, that’s a name I like. Apprentice,” U.S. President Donald Trump mused during an economic roundtable meeting Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a dozen business leaders from major companies in both countries.

It was a moment of levity that both sides probably welcomed, during discussions of one of the few areas where these two administrations might wholeheartedly agree these days: the importance of vocational training. “The German apprenticeship model is one of the proven programs to develop a highly-skilled workforce,” Mr. Trump acknowledged.

That was the end of the easy part of the discussion. After all, it’s no secret that relations between the two leaders have been frosty in the first few months of the Trump administration.

Following the economic meeting, all eyes were on a press conference between the two leaders, where both took pains to stress their commonalities, though their differences remained more than apparent.

The first sign that things might not be as warm as they seem came during a photo opportunity in the Oval Office. Ms. Merkel and Mr. Trump did not shake hands over the iconic fireplace that U.S. leaders have long used to welcome their foreign counterparts. One reporter claimed to hear that Ms. Merkel asked Mr. Trump if he wanted a handshake. The U.S. president didn’t react. The two leaders did shake hands at the press conference, though, and on Ms. Merkel’s arrival at the White House.

There was another moment which may have made the German chancellor cringe. Mr. Trump was asked at the ensuing press conference whether he would like to retract his administration’s unsubstantiated allegation that British intelligence helped former president Barack Obama wire tap Trump Towers in New York – an allegation the U.K agency sharply denied Friday. The U.S president chose to bring in his German counterpart: “At least we have something in common, perhaps,” he quipped, likely referring to reports that Ms. Merkel’s own cell phone was tapped by the NSA.

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