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Trump and Merkel show little rapport

dpa logodpa 17/03/2017 Ken Thomas and Jill Colvin

Donald Trump and Angela Merkel did shake hands during their first public appearance at the White House - eventually.

President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have tried to sidestep their differences but some awkward moments have punctuated their first public appearance.

During a photo op in the Oval Office on Friday, the two did not shake hands.

Later, during a joint news conference, Trump pushed back against the notion in Europe that his "America First" agenda means he's an isolationist, calling such a suggestion "another example of, as you say, fake news".

And he referred to the United States as "a very powerful company" before quickly correcting that to "country."

When a German reporter asked Trump if he regrets any of his commentary on Twitter, Trump said, "Very seldom."

Merkel maintained her composure even when Trump repeated his contention that former President Barack Obama may have tapped his phones in Trump Tower.

He sought to turn the explosive charge into a light joke when asked about concerns raised by the British government that the White House is now citing a debunked claim that UK spies snooped on him.

"At least we have something in common, perhaps," Trump said casually, referring to 2013 reports the US was monitoring Merkel's mobile phone conversations.

As for the most recent report, Trump said he shouldn't be blamed for quoting a Fox News analyst who had accused British intelligence of helping Obama spy on him.

When the subject turned to economic issues, Merkel attempted to project a conciliatory approach.

She said the "success of Germans has always been one where the German success is one side of the coin and the other side of the coin has been European unity and European integration. That's something of which I'm deeply convinced."

Those comments appeared aimed at making a case to Trump on the benefits of the European Union.

Trump backed Britain's departure from the EU and has expressed scepticism of multilateral trade agreements.

The two leaders tried to express their common bonds but showed minimal rapport in their first encounter, a departure from Merkel's warm relations with Obama during his eight years as president.

At the start of the news conference, Merkel sought to break the ice, saying it was "much better to talk to one another than about one another".

Merkel said delicately that while she represents German interests, Trump "stands up for, as is right, American interests. That is our task respectively." She said they were "trying to address also those areas where we disagree but tried to bring people together."

"We need to be fair with each other," Merkel said, saying both countries were expecting "that something good comes out of it for their own people."

The meetings at the White House included discussions on strengthening NATO, fighting the Islamic State group, the conflict in Afghanistan and resolving Ukraine's conflict, all matters that require close co-operation between the US and Germany.

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