French-style kisses on both cheeks, lengthy handshakes turned into “bro-shakes” and repeated affirmations of a burgeoning friendship: the “bromance” between President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron was on full display during the first state visit of the Trump Administration this week.
Don’t expect much of that when German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives on Friday. At their first meeting in the Oval Office last year, President Trump refused to shake Merkel’s hand for a photo op.
“I think it will be a very sober, low-profile working summit, which better matches Merkel’s expectations and persona,” Henning Riecke, head of Transatlantic Relations at the German Council of Foreign Relations in Berlin, told ABC News. “It could, of course, be a bit of a punishment because Angela Merkel is not as enthusiastic about Donald Trump and his leadership.”
President Trump is the third U.S. president Chancellor Merkel has greeted in office. On her first official trip to the US in 2007, President George W. Bush invited ally Merkel to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
In 2009, Merkel addressed Congress on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in 2011, there was an official state dinner with President Obama.
“In Merkel’s case, no one expects warm body language. They are looking for policy outcomes,” said Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Donfriend added that Merkel has two big asks of President Trump on time-sensitive issues.
“The EU exemption for steel and aluminum tariffs that President Trump has levied will expire May 1. She wants that extended,” she added.
And like President Macron, Merkel wants to ensure that Trump doesn’t back out of the Iran nuclear deal on May 12.
Germany is the EU’s largest steel exporter. While only about 5 percent of German steel comes to the U.S. -- accounting for just 4 percent of U.S. steel imports -- the 28 EU nations in all make up more than one-fifth of all U.S. steel imports.
Henning Riecke says Merkel and Macron coordinated their push for continued free trade between the U.S. and the EU.
“President Trump had the idea that the U.S. would be better off negotiating bilaterally,” Riecke says. “He didn’t understand that you can’t negotiate with European Union members bilaterally ... that you have to do that with the EU.”
Getting President Trump to stick to the Iran Deal is another matter, Donfried said.
“I think Merkel and Macron realize the deck is stacked against them. You have a new National Security Advisor in John Bolton who has been very critical of the Iran deal and Mike Pompeo, the incoming Secretary of State, assuming he’s approved, is known to be quite critical of the Iran deal.”
Riecke says Merkel may reiterate Macron’s proposal to begin new negotiations for 2025.
“They could start with those now, but from a position of trust -- that once an agreement is there, you stick to it,” Riecke said.
He says this would also send a signal to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for upcoming negotiations on its nuclear program.
Donfried says to find consensus with “deal maker” Donald Trump, Merkel will have to offer the hawks something in return -- like more defense spending.
NATO allies have agreed to meet their 2 percent GDP defense spending goal by 2024. France is already there, but Germany currently spends just 1.2 percents of its GDP on defense.
”I think it would make sense for Merkel to suggest some tangible steps Germany is taking to increase their defense capability,” Donfried tells ABC News.
She says back home, Merkel, a Christian Democrat, can make the case to her less-hawkish Social Democratic coalition partners and her constituents that increased military spending is not a concession, but a growing necessity.
“Germany is the most populous country in Europe with the largest economy in the EU, so Germany has to be setting an example,” Donfried says. “France has a very capable military but you are losing the U.K. as a member of the European Union with Brexit, and Britain has one of the most capable militaries in Europe. So I think for Germany’s own interest -- never mind what President Trump is asking for -- it’s in Germany’s interest to step up and take more responsibility in that foreign security and defense policy arena.”
Riecke says Germans don’t expect these negotiations to be easy. Ultimately, Merkel’s success on this trip might be measured more in hashtags than in handshakes, he added.
“It would be a win if she came back with a narrative of the meeting and [President Trump] wouldn’t destroy it in 30 seconds in a new tweet the next day,” he said.