Trump, Merkel Discussed NATO, Mideast in First Phone Call

  • President accepts invitation to July’s G-20 summit in Hamburg
  • Talk comes on day Trump speaking with Putin, other leaders

Transatlantic Relations in a 'Brittle' State: Burns

Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed issues ranging from NATO to Russia to the situation in the Middle East during a 45-minute telephone call on Saturday, their first since the Republican’s inauguration.

The conversation affirmed the importance of close German-American cooperation to each country’s security, the White House said in a statement on the call. Trump accepted Merkel’s invitation to attend the G-20 summit in Hamburg in July and said he looked forward to hosting the chancellor in Washington soon.

The talk between the two leaders came an hour before Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other top White House officials spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump spoke later with French President Francois Hollande.

Merkel has pushed the U.S. to maintain sanctions on Russia over its incursion into Ukraine, and has denounced the Russian leader for his support of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad amid that country’s bloody civil war.

Trump, however, has floated the idea of lifting penalties imposed over Russia’s seizure of Crimea in exchange for a nuclear weapons pact or help fighting terrorist groups like Islamic State. On Friday, the U.S. president said during a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May that it was “very early” to consider lifting the sanctions.

The conversation also comes a day after Trump halted the U.S. refugee program and suspended all immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. In the hours after the presidential edict many airports imposed blanket bans on U.S. travel for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Germany has accepted 1.1 million refugees over the past year, according to its government, straining resources and Merkel’s political capital. But the German leader has said the open-door policy is in keeping with her country’s humanitarian values.

‘Catastrophic Mistake’

In an interview with the Times of London earlier this month, Trump said that while he had “great respect” for Merkel, she had made “one catastrophic mistake” by allowing the entry by those fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East.

“That was taking all of these illegals,” Trump said. “Taking all of these people from wherever they come from. And nobody knows where they come from.”

Trump also criticized the EU as “basically a vehicle for Germany,” saying that’s why he supported the U.K.’s decision to leave the group. He also said the E.U. imposed unfair environmental standards that prevented developers from building in Europe.

And Trump has repeatedly suggested that NATO is obsolete, describing the institution as a Cold War relic that the U.S. disproportionately funds. Merkel has been a strong supporter of the group, which has deployed troops into Eastern Europe as a bulwark against Russia’s military buildup along its border.

Merkel and Trump “agreed on the NATO alliance’s fundamental importance to the broader Transatlantic relationship and its role in ensuring the peace and stability” of the North Atlantic community, the White House said. “The leaders agreed on the need to strengthen already robust cooperation in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.”

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