The German government and U.S. President Donald Trump have been on a diplomatic collision course for months on virtually every major issue in bilateral relations, from trade to immigration and security.
Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s new foreign minister, has set out for Washington to meet with the new U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, as well as Vice President Mike Pence in the hopes of heading off a major confrontation between the two largest economies in the trans-Atlantic alliance.
It’s the first official meeting between a high-ranking German official and the new U.S administration. It’s also the first visit by any major European Union official – barring British Prime Minister Theresa May whose country intends to leave the E.U. – since Mr. Trump took office January 20.
A rupture between Germany and the United States could prove devastating for trans-Atlantic relations at a time when Britain is on its way out of the European Union.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly expressed support for Brexit in public and he predicted in a controversial interview with European press that more countries would leave the bloc.
A European diplomat, who spoke with Handelsblatt on condition of anonymity, expressed concern that the U.S. administration might actively support the breakup of the European Union.
On Friday, the leaders of the 28 E.U. members states will meet in Malta to discuss how they should respond to the new U.S. administration.
For Mr. Gabriel, the discussions in Washington are an opportunity to discern which of Mr. Trump’s controversial public statements, and there have been many, are just bluster and which ones constitute real policy proposals.
“We have questions for the new U.S. administration about its foreign policy course, its relationship to the alliance and the global order,” Mr. Gabriel said before taking off for Washington.