Germany hit back today at US President Donald Trump’s claims that Berlin owed “vast sums of money” to Nato, following a less than cordial meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House.
The comments from German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen came as Mr Trump’s spokesman denied that the US leader had refused to shake hands with Merkel, arguably the most powerful woman in world.
“There is no account where debts are registered with Nato,” Von der Leyen, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in a statement.
She also noted that Nato spending should not be the only criteria used to measure Germany’s military efforts.
On Saturday Trump had tweeted that “Germany owes vast sums of money to Nato & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive defence it provides to Germany!”
His tweetstorm came a day after Trump met Ms Merkel in Washington, where the two leaders showed little common ground over a host of thorny issues, including Nato and defence spending.
Ms Merkel said Berlin had committed to increasing its military spending to two per cent of GDP, a target Nato member states formally agreed in 2014 to reach within 10 years.
Germany, whose wartime past has led it traditionally to be reticent on defence matters, currently spends 1.2 per cent of GDP.
The stark differences between Mr Trump and Ms Merkel on everything from trade to immigration were in full view during their frosty first White House meeting Friday.
Although the visit began cordially enough, with the pair shaking hands at the White House entrance, Ms Merkel’s suggestion of another handshake in the Oval Office went unheard or ignored by Trump — an awkward moment in what are usually highly scripted occasions.
“I don’t believe he heard the request,” Mr Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer told German weekly Der Spiegel published on Sunday.
But Germany’s top-selling Bild newspaper said that was “improbable”, saying that throughout the meeting, Trump did not once look Merkel in the eye.
The difficult encounter came as a new row erupted over environment at a G20 meeting of finance ministers in Germany, when Trump’s administration defied the international community by refusing to renew a pledge on climate change.
The ministers were forced Saturday to leave out an entire section related to the Paris accord on combating climate change after US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said green issues were “not in my track”.
“Donald Trump is trying to ruin Merkel’s G20 summit” being hosted by Germany in July, Die Welt newspaper charged.
Trump had lashed out at the media in a Saturday morning tweet over its view of the Merkel meeting.
“Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS,” he said, “I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”