The United States must ensure Iran does not get nuclear weapons, U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday.
“I don’t talk about whether or not I would use military force,” Trump told a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “But I can tell you this, they will not be doing nuclear weapons. That I can tell you. OK? They are not going to be doing nuclear weapons. You can bank on it. ”
Trump warmly welcomed Merkel at the White House Friday for talks the U.S. president said would focus on Iran, international trade and military ties.
Merkel arrives facing an uphill struggle to save the Iran nuclear deal, avoid a trade war and make her relationship with the U.S. president functional again.
Trump is widely expected to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear accord next month, despite pleas from Macron earlier this week and Merkel Friday. Merkel used her meeting with Trump to try to paper over the differences, calling the Obama-era agreement a “first step” toward curtailing and containing Iran’s regional ambitions and suggesting openness to a side agreement.
Trump has said he was open to new negotiations with Iran, but has not said whether he would heed European calls for the U.S. to stay in the deal, which aims to restrict Iran’s nuclear efforts, while those talks are underway. His decision is expected by May 12.
Merkel’s visit got off to a surprisingly warm start, and the body language showed. The two leaders exchanged kisses on the cheek as Merkel emerged from her limousine, and Trump then praised her as “an extraordinary woman” as they sat together in the Oval Office.
“We actually have had a great relationship right from the beginning but some people didn’t understand that,” Trump told reporters. “But we understand it, and that’s what’s important.”
Trump has called the Iran nuclear deal, which Germany helped negotiate, “insane,” demanding that its “disastrous flaws” be fixed.
French President Emmanuel Macron came away from his meetings in Washington this week speculating that Trump would kill the deal, but debate continues to rage.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Thursday said Washington was yet to make “any decision” on tearing up the deal, but stressed that some aspects needed to be improved.
It is unclear how Mike Pompeo’s confirmation as secretary of state will tilt the debate. Despite his hawkish views on Iran, his criticism of the deal had been somewhat tempered in internal discussions, officials said.
The German foreign ministry has insisted that “the biggest priority is maintaining the existing nuclear accord.”
On trade, Merkel said there was little progress on seeking permanent exemptions for the EU from Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. “The decision lies with the president,” she said.
Trump complained that the World Trade Organization has treated the U.S. poorly. He called for “fair and reciprocal trade relationships with our friends and allies.”
Trump implicitly scolded Germany for not meeting its defense spending obligations to NATO, saying, it is “essential that our NATO allies increase their financial contribution,” to the pact.
He pressed European nations to spend at least two percent of their GDP on defense — as he has urged since his campaign.
Merkel says Germany will continue to be a reliable partner within the NATO alliance.
Merkel said Germany’s latest budget will take defense spending to 1.3 percent of GDP. She acknowledged that’s far short of the 2 percent goal but said Germany is still aiming for that over time.