We were both wiretapped under Obama: Trump to Merkel

BBC | Published: 08:45, Mar 18,2017

 
 
Donald Trump,  Angela Merkel

US president Donald Trump speaks as he holds a joint news conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel in the East Room of the White House in Washington, US, March 17, 2017. — Reuters photo

US president Donald Trump has stood by claims he was wiretapped under Barack Obama, telling visiting German chancellor Angela Merkel: ‘At least we have something in common, perhaps.’

US intelligence agencies under Obama reportedly monitored Merkel's phone, sparking an angry response.

But both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders have said they do not believe Trump was wiretapped.

Trump and Merkel have discussed key issues including Nato and trade.

Her visit had been scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed due to a snowstorm.

Trump made his wire-tapping jibe in a joint press conference with Merkel. She gave a quizzical look.

He 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 Trump during the US election campaign.

Trump said 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.’

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.

The US president 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, Merkel asked him quietly: ‘Do you want a handshake?’ He looked forwards with his hands clasped and did not reply.

Nato and trade were key points of discussion for the two leaders.

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 defence’.

Germany is among many Nato members that do not meet the benchmark 2 per cent of GDP to be spent on defence.

Merkel said Germany was committed to increasing its defence spending.

On trade, 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.’

He 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.’

Merkel, who is 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.

The two leaders certainly have hugely contrasting ideas and leadership styles.

BBC Berlin correspondent Jenny Hill says he is flamboyant, impetuous and prone to rhetoric, while she is reserved, pragmatic and lingers over decisions.

In January, Trump said the German chancellor had made ‘a catastrophic mistake’ by allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants into Germany.

For her part Merkel has criticised president Trump's controversial travel ban that targets the citizens of several mainly Muslim countries.

Immigration was clearly one of the issues on which the leaders had, as Merkel put it, ‘an exchange of views’.

He said immigration was ‘a privilege not a right’ and that ‘safety of our citizens must come first’, whereas she said: ‘Refugees have to be given the opportunity to shape their own lives.’

Our correspondent says Angela Merkel needs to walk a diplomatic tightrope. She has to build a working relationship with Trump without appearing to sacrifice her own values or disappoint those keen to cast her as the West's last defender of those democratic ideals.

This first meeting comes as she prepares for an election battle later in the year, seeking a fourth term as chancellor.

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