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Macron, Merkel Visits Mark Divides With U.S. Over Iran Deal, Trade


We're going to start the program today looking back over what has been an important week in diplomacy for the Trump administration. President Trump applauded a historic summit between North Korea and South Korea on Friday. He tweeted, the United States and all of its great people should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea. And even though President Trump was not a participant, the South Korean foreign minister credited him with bringing North Korea's Kim Jong Un to the table.

And then, here in Washington D.C., two important meetings. President Trump hosted French president Emmanuel Macron for an elaborate state visit at the beginning of the week and then met more briefly with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Friday at the White House. Now you might have seen that the body language at both encounters was a bit awkward at times, but we wondered about the substance of those visits, specifically whether Macron or Merkel bridged any of their substantive differences with President Trump. For a European view, we're joined now by the European Union's ambassador to Washington, David O'Sullivan. Ambassador, thank you so much for speaking with us.

DAVID O'SULLIVAN: My pleasure.

MARTIN: So I'd like to start with the Iran nuclear deal, which the Europeans want to keep in place and which President Trump wants to renegotiate. President Macron made a plea before a joint session of Congress for the U.S. to abide by the deal. But then just yesterday, the U.S. secretary of state, Pompeo, said the president was unlikely to stay in the deal past May. So, Ambassador, if the U.S. does walk away, do you have a sense of how the European Union will respond?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, we still hope that the president will see the benefits of preserving this deal. We understand that he is not entirely happy with it, to say the least. We understand that it doesn't solve all the problems with Iran and that's why we've been more than willing to engage with the American colleagues to see if we can find ways of addressing some of those issues - Iran's terrorist supporter in the region, the ballistic missiles program and so forth. But we believe that all of those problems would be much worse if Iran were to return to a path of acquiring nuclear weapons. So we still hope that the advantages of preserving this deal - also in the context, that you just mentioned, of North Korea, where if we're going to proceed, as we all hope to some negotiation of denuclearization, the Iran deal is the only working model currently available of how you could do that.

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MARTIN: Yesterday, Chancellor Merkel was asked about this also at a joint news conference with President Trump, and I'll play what she said. And you're actually going to hear the voice of the interpreter over hers. Here it is.


CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) This agreement is anything but perfect. It will not solve all the problems with Iran. It is one piece of the mosaic, one building block, if you like, on which we can build up this structure.

MARTIN: So what are the other building blocks that Chancellor Merkel and other Europeans have in mind? For example, are the Europeans working with the president about supplementing the Iran deal with some other measures to address Iran's behavior in Syria's, support for Hezbollah? Something like that.

O'SULLIVAN: Exactly. These are the areas where we have been working on the ballistic missile issue, which is of concern to us on the activities of Iran in the region and how we can push back on that. So these are - these are the kind of issues where we have been, I think, able to find actually quite a lot of common ground between the Europeans and the Americans. And we believe that when you take that into account, this addresses some of the criticism of the Iran deal, but it doesn't address the totality of problems we have with Iran, which as the Chancellor has just said, through the interpreter, that is correct. Because we wanted to address the biggest single problem of Iran which was the idea that Iran might develop nuclear weapons, and this agreement has made that impossible.

MARTIN: Another big point of contention between the U.S. and Europe now is trade and President Trump's threat to impose tariffs on May 1 on European aluminum and steel, and he was asked about this yesterday at that news conference. Also, here it is.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We need a reciprocal relationship, which we don't have. The United States right now has a trade deficit with the European Union of $151 billion. And the chancellor and I have discussed it today at length, and we're working on it.

MARTIN: So, how does the EU see its strained relationship with the U.S.? The president says it's unfair. We'd like to hear your perspective.

O'SULLIVAN: Well, respectfully, I don't think we share that view because trade deficits and surpluses have many causes. Sometimes they can be caused by unfair trading conditions. That's certainly a common problem we have with China because we don't think that China plays entirely by the same rules as we do. But I think when it comes to the United States and Europe, we are both very open, very rules based, relatively low tariff-trading economies. And I don't think that American trade with Europe faces unfair obstacles. I think the source of the trade deficit is elsewhere. It lies in macroeconomic policy here in the United States. It lies in the consumer choices, the nature of what we import and export.

And so, while we're more than willing and we understand that this is a problem for this administration, we're more than willing to sit down and see how we can address problems they have. But we also have some issues about exporting to the United States. So, I actually think the trading relationship is relatively balanced, but of course we value the relationship. And we would be willing to just sit down and discuss any problems that the U.S. side has on the understanding, of course, that we could also raise some problems we sometimes have.

MARTIN: Well, Ambassador, we thank you for your time. We realize we've only just scratched the surface here. But before we let you go, you know, we've known that relations between the Trump administration and Europe have been strained over these issues that we've mentioned also, military spending by NATO allies, which the president also raised again yesterday and climate change. Do you think that the visits by the French and German leaders improve the working relationship at all?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes, I think these kind of visits are hugely important. It was great to have the French president here for an official state visit celebrating the very long connections between France and the United States. The chancellor was here for a more businesslike shorter official visit. But again, another chance to develop personal relations because, at the end of the day, it's very important that these leaders understand each other, understand how they think. And I think these two visits will have done a lot to make this administration understand the European position and they will certainly take back to Europe a better understanding of the views of President Trump on many of these issues. This is a very positive development.

MARTIN: That is David O'Sullivan. He is the European Union's ambassador to Washington. Ambassador, thank you so much for speaking to us.

O'SULLIVAN: My pleasure. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.