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May 30, 2017

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Germany hits back at Trump over NATO comments after icy meeting with Merkel

BERLIN -- Germany hit back on Sunday at U.S. President Donald Trump's claims that Berlin owed "vast sums of money" to NATO, following a less than cordial meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The comments from German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen came as Trump's spokesman denied that the U.S. leader had refused to shake hands with Merkel, arguably the most powerful woman in world.

The stark differences between Trump and Merkel on everything from trade to immigration were in full view during their frosty first White House meeting Friday.

Although the visit began cordially enough, with the pair shaking hands at the White House entrance, Merkel's suggestion of another handshake in the Oval Office went unheard or ignored by Trump.

"I don't believe he heard the request," Trump's spokesman Sean Spicer told German weekly Der Spiegel published on Sunday.

But Germany's top-selling Bild newspaper said that was "improbable," saying that throughout the meeting, Trump did not once

look Merkel in the eye.

Germany Increasing Military Spending

Trump had lashed out at the media in a Saturday morning tweet over its view of the Merkel meeting.

"Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS," he said, "I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel."

But he then added: "Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!"

Germany's defense minister Von der Leyen, a close Merkel ally, on Sunday rebuffed his comments.

"There is no account where debts are registered with NATO," she said in a statement, adding that NATO spending should not be the only criteria used to measure Germany's military efforts.

Merkel said Berlin was committed to increasing its military spending to two percent of GDP, a 10-year- target NATO member states formally agreed to in 2014.

'Not how NATO works'

Trump had made European defense spending an issue during his election campaign, saying the United States — which spends just over three percent of its GDP on defense — carries too much of the financial burden for supporting NATO.

Germany, whose wartime past has led it traditionally to be reticent on military matters, currently spends 1.2 percent of GDP on defense.

Von der Leyen said on Sunday that Germany's increased military

spending would not go only to

NATO but would also be used for participating in U.N. and European peacekeeping missions and to contribute to the fight against the Islamic State extremists.

"To try to link the two percent (of (GDP) that we are aiming by the middle of the decade is erroneous," she said.

Trump critics pointed out that NATO members don't pay the United States for security, but contribute by spending on their own militaries.

"Sorry, Mr. President, that's not how NATO works," tweeted Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to NATO.

"This is not a financial transaction, where NATO countries pay the U.S. to defend them. It is part of our treaty commitment."

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