Donald Trump made his wiretapping jibe in a joint press conference with Angela Merkel. She gave a quizzical look.
The president was also asked about a comment by White House press secretary Sean Spicer that the UK’s GCHQ spy agency had carried out wiretapping on candidate Donald Trump during the election campaign.
Donald Trump said Sean Spicer had been quoting a comment on Fox TV. The president said he had not offered an opinion on it, adding: “You shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”
Image source NBC
Fox later read out a statement on air, saying: “Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way, full stop.”
GCHQ rejected the allegations against it as “nonsense” and Downing Street says it has been assured the US will not repeat the claims.
President Trump was also asked if he regretted any of his regular tweets. He said “very seldom”, adding that it was a way to “get round the media when it doesn’t tell the truth”.
The body language was at times awkward. In an earlier photo opportunity in the White House, Angela Merkel asked him quietly: “Do you want a handshake?”
Donald Trump looked forwards with his hands clasped and did not reply.
President Trump reiterated his strong support for the alliance, but also “the need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defense”.
Germany is among many NATO members that do not meet the benchmark 2% of GDP to be spent on defense.
Angela Merkel said Germany was committed to increasing its defense spending.
On trade, President Trump bristled at a suggestion that he believed in “isolationist” policies. He told the reporter asking the question: “I don’t know what newspaper you’re reading, but I guess that would be an example of fake news.”
Donald Trump added: “I believe a policy of trade should be a fair trade. And the United States has been treated very, very unfairly by many countries over the years and that’s going to stop.”
Angela Merkel, who was travelling with top executives from German companies Siemens, Schaeffler and BMW, said she hoped the US and the EU could resume talks on removing barriers to bilateral trade.
And when Time magazine chose the Germanchancellor as its person of the year in 2015 instead of him, Donald Trump said she was “ruining Germany”. However, he has also said in the past she is a leader he greatly respects.
Donald Trump also has German ancestry. His grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1885 at the age of 16 from the town of Kallstadt, about 30 miles south-west of Frankfurt.
For her part, Angela Merkel has criticized President Trump’s controversial travel ban that targets the citizens of several mainly Muslim countries.
In her first phone conversation with President Trump after he took office, she explained that the Geneva Convention obliges signatories, including the US, to take in refugees of war on humanitarian grounds.
Angela Merkel also had a strong relationship with President Barack Obama. His final call to a foreign leader as president was said to be to Angela Merkel, thanking her for her leadership.
This first meeting comes as Angela Merkel prepares for an election battle later in the year, seeking a fourth term as chancellor.
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