White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday called President Donald Trump's relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel "fairly unbelievable" after she spent the weekend hinting at a shift away from the US and UK.
The two leaders "get along very well," Spicer said. "He has a lot of respect for her. They continue to grow the bond that they had during their talks in the G7, and he views not just Germany but the rest of Europe as an important American ally."
But Merkel told supporters during a campaign event on Sunday that "the times in which [Germany] could fully rely on others are partly over."
"I have experienced this in the last few days," Merkel said. "We Europeans really have to take our destiny into our own hands. Of course in friendship with the United States and in friendship with Great Britain and as good neighbors wherever it is possible, also with Russia and also with all the other countries, but we need to know that we have to fight for our own future and destiny as Europeans."
Merkel's comments came on the heels of Trump's appearances at a NATO summit in Brussels, in which he refused to endorse NATO's collective defense clause and lectured representatives from nearly two-dozen member countries for not meeting their "financial obligations."
He also refused to endorse the Paris climate pact at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy.
Trump appeared to fire back at Merkel on Tuesday morning, tweeting that "we have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change."
Asked about Merkel's comments, Spicer said Trump's relationship with Merkel is "fairly unbelievable" and argued that it was heartening to see Germany "heeding the president's call" for NATO members to "increase their burden sharing."
"NATO's secretary general recognizes that the president's rhetoric has had a positive effect on the strengthening" of the organization, Spicer said Tuesday.
It's not the first time that Merkel has hit back at Trump over his lukewarm attitude toward NATO. After he described the organization as "obsolete" in a January interview, Merkel issued a statement saying that Europe's destiny was "in our own hands."
"I will continue to work to ensure that the 27 member states work together effectively and, above all, in a forward-looking way," she said at the time, adding that Trump's positions on the defense organization had "been known for a while."
"My positions are also known," she said.
German intelligence officials have reportedly told the US that the country does not need help safeguarding its upcoming election from potential Russian meddling, NBC reported Tuesday. The rebuff was likely a jab at the fact that Trump and his campaign team are being investigated by the FBI as part of its investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 US election.
Trump hosted Merkel at the White House in March, where he refrained from shaking her hand during a photo op in the Oval Office and joked about reports that the National Security Agency, under President Barack Obama, had been intercepting Merkel's phone calls and spying on German officials in 2013.
But Merkel's warm relationship with Obama stands in stark contrast to her tense encounters with Trump. The German leader repeatedly characterized Obama as a friend and a strong German ally, and Obama called Merkel "one of my favorite partners throughout my presidency" during a visit to Germany's Brandenburg Gate on Thursday. Obama and Merkel met on the same day Merkel was set to meet with Trump during the NATO summit in Brussels.
Sonam Sheth contributed reporting.
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