U.S. President Donald Trump’s spokesman has denied that the Mr. Trump refused to shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House last week.
“I don’t think he heard the question” posed by Ms. Merkel when she suggested they shake hands, in full view of press cameras, spokesman Sean Spicer told German weekly Der Spiegel published on Sunday.
The quote was translated into English from Der Spiegel’s online German website.
Ms. Merkel’s visit on Friday had began cordially, with the pair shaking hands at the entrance of the White House. But later, sitting side-by-side in the Oval Office, her suggestion of another handshake went unheard or ignored by Mr. Trump — an awkward moment in what are usually highly scripted occasions. German media pointed to the incident as another marker of the meeting’s general icy mood between the cautious German Chancellor and impulsive U.S. President.
In a joint press conference, the two showed little common ground as they addressed a host of thorny issues including NATO, defence spending and free trade deals.
Also, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday rejected Mr. Trump’s claim that Germany owes NATO and the United States “vast sums” of money for defence. “There is no debt account at NATO,” Ms. von der Leyen said in a statement, adding that it was wrong to link the alliance’s target for members to spend 2% of their economic output on defence by 2024 solely to NATO. “Defence spending also goes into UN peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against IS terrorism,” Ms. von der Leyen said.
She said everyone wanted the burden to be shared fairly and for that to happen it was necessary to have a “modern security concept” that included a modern NATO but also a European defence union and investment in the United Nations.
Mr. Trump said on Twitter on Saturday — a day after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington — that Germany “owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”
German defence spending is set to rise by €1.4 billion to €38.5 billion in 2018 — a figure that is projected to represent 1.26% of economic output, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said.