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Trump, Merkel Seek Common Ground on NATO, Trade

President Donald Trump shakes hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Friday, March 17, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump shakes hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Friday, March 17, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON -- In their first face-to-face meeting, President Donald Trump told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday that he fully supports NATO but will insist that member states, including Germany, pay their "fair share" to continue the crucial security alliance.

Merkel and Trump met in private, spoke to reporters, and then had lunch in a daylong summit that both sides portrayed as an attempt to restore stability in relations between the U.S. and the most populous and richest nation in Europe.

At the press conference, Trump said it was "unfair" for the United States to shoulder the bulk of the NATO budget and he welcomed Merkel's pledge to increase Germany's military spending.

The 38 countries in NATO are supposed to allocate 2 percent of their gross domestic product to defense, but few do.

In a slight dig at Merkel, Trump said immigration was "a privilege not a right." During the presidential campaign, he had accused her of "ruining" Germany by allowing tens of thousands of refugees, many from Syria and other predominantly Muslim countries, to enter Germany.

But he also aligned himself with Merkel when he was asked whether he still stood by his still-unproven claims that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration.

Although the GOP-led House and Senate intelligence committees have said they've seen no evidence to support Trump's claim, he refused to back down. Instead, he said, he and Merkel "have something in common."

In 2013, leaks by Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency, which operates overseas, had eavesdropped on Merkel and other foreign leaders. Obama subsequently ended the surveillance on her.

Trump denied a reporter's suggestion that his "America First" policy meant he was an isolationist, saying such an assertion was "fake news."

Merkel repeatedly stressed the importance of trade and the European Union's role as one of the United States' leading trade partners.

Asked what she thought of Trump's often bombastic style, in contrast to her own calm demeanor, Merkel was gracious. She said Trump "has a right to stand up for American interests" and had received her warmly.

She added it was better for leaders to "talk to one another, rather than about one another."

Earlier, the two sat in the White House Oval Office before news cameras, declining urges to shake hands. They shook hands after the press conference, however.

Germany is worried that the Trump administration has little regard for a united Europe and is overly friendly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump has voiced support for Britain's withdrawal from the European Union and urged other countries to follow suit, steps that would undermine long-standing economic and political stability.

In addition to their private meeting, Trump and Merkel spoke together with business leaders from their two countries to discuss trade and vocational training programs. Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner were among the participants.

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