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Stakes High for German/U.S. Relations; Germany's View of U.S. Relationship; Trump/Merkel News Conference. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 17, 2017 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: For the U.S. or does Donald Trump, because often times you hear two different things. They don't know the answer to that question.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Everybody stand by. We're following the breaking news this hour as we keep an eye on the East Room of the - at the White House. In just a few minutes, the president of the United States, the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, they will both be making statements to the press. The president held a business roundtable with Chancellor Merkel just a little while ago. U.S. and German business leaders were there as well. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chancellor, thank you very much. Such great honor to get to know you, to be with you.

I want to thank all of the business leaders who have joined us to discuss a subject that's very important to me, training our workforce for the 21st century, especially with respect to manufacturing jobs. We're working every day to bring back jobs to our country and thousands and thousands are already coming back. You're seeing it, you're reading about it in the papers every single day. We want to make sure that we have the workforce development programs we need to insure these jobs are being filled by American workers. Germany and the United States have incredible opportunity to deepen our partnership as we continue to develop a strong workforce in both of our countries. Both Germany and the United States are pioneering -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, I want to go quickly to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, who's over in the East Room getting ready for this news conference.

I know the stakes are very, very significant for both sides right now, but set the scene, Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Incredibly significant, Wolf, largely because these two leaders are just getting to know each other here and there is so much history here. We have heard Donald Trump, before he was elected, while he was running, indeed had some harsh words, harsher than perhaps any other leader, certainly any leader like Angela Merkel. He said she was ruining Germany with her immigration policy. And, of course, when he has talked about his own executive order that he has signed, which he also may be asked about here again today, he certainly has a different world view from her entirely. But there is no question that Germany also wants to reset its relationship and get to know this president as well. It's something that happens with each change of power here, Wolf.

But this is without request the most consequential face to face meeting so far that this new administration has had during about two months or so in office. But, Wolf, again, those wiretapping allegations hanging over the president, the administration, they've been debunked by Republicans and Democrats alike. So all of these issues here, of course, facing this president who, after this is over, has a luncheon with her and then flies to Florida.

Wolf.

BLITZER: It's pretty shocking that the president and the White House have allowed all these wiretap allegations to fester now for almost two weeks.

I want to bring in our senior international correspondent Atika Shubert. She's joining us live from Berlin right now.

So what's the overall view over there of the new American president and Chancellor Merkel's efforts right now to reset that relation - remember, she's got her own re-election campaign going forward. She's got an election coming up in September.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean I think a lot of Germans have been very puzzled and bemused to see what's happening in the first days of the Trump administration. But many Germans absolutely believe that they need a good working relationship with the United States. It's what the Trans-Atlantic Alliance has been based on. And so many people here look up to the United States in many ways and they want Angela Merkel to be able to re-establish some common ground with Trump.

And this is what it comes down to. How can she establish that? We heard earlier them talking about manufacturing, trade. This is something - this is one reason why she brought two CEOs with her, of Siemens and BMW, to emphasize that Germany - German trade with the United States is good. BMW has the biggest plant - its biggest plant in North Carolina and exports out of that plant, out of - outside to the - out of the United States. So she's really trying to hit these common themes, this is how we help each other and hoping that she can make a connection there.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. Atika, we're going to get back to you.

I also want to bring in our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

This U.S./German relationship, you've studied it, Elise, very, very closely. Right now, how would you - how would you mark it as far as the current state? ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I would mark it, if

we're on FaceBook, as complicated and still being reshaped right now. I want to look - look at this headline that I saw on Politico today. It says, "the leader of the free world meets Donald Trump." And, I mean, when you look at the kind of reversal of roles, you have this new president coming in very untested, very - a lot of anxieties about him around the world, and you have this president, as we've been - this chancellor, as we've been saying, has been through three U.S. presidents, a bunch of crises around the world. She has no illusions about Vladimir Putin. And a lot of people think right, with all of this talk about the relationship between the U.S. and Europe and the instability I the world right now that she is one of the last best hopes to kind of pick up the mantle and pick up for what a lot of people are fearing is going to be a vacuum in U.S. leadership.

[14:05:30] BORGER: And remember that Merkel was key in planning Europe's response to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the sanctions. And I think she's going to want to know from Donald Trump -

SCIUTTO: Right.

BORGER: Where are you on sanctions?

LABOTT: A great - a great - political cause (INAUDIBLE) the economy.

BORGER: (INAUDIBLE) a great political cost.

SCIUTTO: A big business cost as well.

LABOTT: Yes. Yes.

BORGER: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Lots of German trade as well.

BORGER: So she took a risk. And also, by the way, she - she take as political risk here if she gets too close to Donald Trump because he's so unpopular back home. So she has to go as the leader and say, I did this. I was important in these sanctions. What do you intend to do with Vladimir Putin? I mean this is - this is personal with her because she put herself out there so much.

BLITZER: We just saw members of the German delegation walking in. Presumably the U.S. delegation will walk in as well. Then the chancellor and the president finally will walk in and they'll make their statements right now. What are you going to be listening for mostly, Jim?

SCIUTTO: If the president is challenged, one, on the wiretapping claim and, two, on this claim propagated by his press secretary that the British government spied on him, right? And on that, to some degree, the White House sort of tripling down on. They're now pushing back on any sense that they apologized to the British over this. And I'll tell you, I speak to the British intelligence often. They don't often comment in public. Their comment yesterday calling this report nonsense and utterly ridiculous, their words not mine, remarkable. And that shows the level of concern that they have by hearing that from the White House podium.

BLITZER: Because they take that seriously when the White House press secretary, the spokesman for the president of the United States, from the White House -

SCIUTTO: You might - you might.

BORGER: Why shouldn't they?

BLITZER: Makes this kind of assertion. Even just citing some unsubstantiated report. That's significant.

SCIUTTO: And, you know, relationships do matter. You know, listen, countries have interest, right? And, of course, these relationships with the U.K. and Germany are built on years of history and common interest, et cetera. But we know personal relationships matter as well and we know, based on President Trump's comments about Germany in the past, that has to cause some difficultly in that personal relationship and now this with the U.K.

BLITZER: It's interesting -

LABOTT: I don't think they're really - sorry. I don't think they're really looking all that close - we talk about how Angela Merkel prepared for this meeting. I think a lot of people are saying to her, don't look at the tweets, don't think about the tweets, don't listen to all this rhetoric that he's talking about, talk to people like McMaster, talk to Tillerson, see what the policies are. And that's the problem here when you're getting the mixed message between the rhetoric and what's being said at the podium and what these cabinet officials are saying or are going to be what seems to be a reasonable policy.

BORGER: You know, to Jim's point, though, these are two very different people.

LABOTT: Right.

BORGER: You know -

LABOTT: Yes.

BORGER: She is as cool as a cucumber. In many ways, that's why she and President Obama got along so well. And Donald Trump is not.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour is still with us as well.

We see the vice president, Christiane, walking in. There you see the vice president, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, you see, Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce, and there you see, the newest deputy national security advisor, Dina Powell (ph), is there as well. Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, senior advisor to the president, and the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump. They're all walking in right now. Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway. So presumably within the next few seconds the president and the chancellor will be walking in as well.

And, Christiane, I may have to interrupt you, but what's the reaction to this whole White House team that has emerged?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, again, people are very concerned about who it is they should be talking to. You're seeing in the middle of your picture now a person who's developed a reputation around the world as this inscrutable, ideologue who believes in a fairly extreme view of what the president of the United States and the U.S. should be doing around the world. You know, essentially watching and presiding over a fractured and breaking up E.U. That doesn't look like that's happening. At least not yet. The E.U. has fended off two existential threats with two recent elections and they probably will in France and Germany as well. Very concerned also about Bannon and the others and their protectionism and what they call the economic nationalism. They believe in Europe that you can't have a protectionist policy because that will affect and hurt everybody, not just their questions, their citizens, but the U.S. as well.

BLITZER: All right. All right, Christiane, hold on, because the president and the chancellor, they are now walking in. Everyone is standing to receive them. The president will open first.

[14:09:59] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.

Chancellor Merkel, it is a great honor to welcome you to the people's house, the White House. Our two nations share much in common, including our desire for security, prosperity and peace.

We just concluded a productive meeting with German and American companies to discuss workforce development and vocational training, very important words. Germany has done an incredible job training the employees and future employees and employing its manufacturing and industrial workforce. It's crucial that we provide our American workers with a really great employment outlook, and that includes making sure that we harness the full potential of women in our economy.

My administration is in the process of rebuilding the American industrial base. A stronger America is in the interest, believe me, of the world as a whole.

I reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO, as well as the need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defense. Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the United States. These nations must pay what they owe. During our meeting, I thanked Chancellor Merkel for the German government's commitment to increase defense spending and work toward contributing at least two percent of GDP.

I want to thank the chancellor for her leadership in supporting NATO and its efforts in Afghanistan. This has come at significant cost, including the lives of over 50 German soldiers whose sacrifice we greatly honor. I also appreciate Chancellor Merkel's leadership, along with the French president, to resolve the conflict in Ukraine where we ideally seek a peaceful solution.

Most importantly, our two countries must continue to work together to protect our people from radical Islamic terrorism and to defeat ISIS. I applaud Chancellor Merkel for Germany's contributions, both civilian and military, as a counter-ISIS coalition member. We also recognize that immigration security is national security. We must protect our citizens from those who seek to spread terrorism, extremism and violence inside our borders. Immigration is a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must always come first without question.

Over lunch, the chancellor and I will talk about our economic partnership. Me must work together towards fair and reciprocal trade policies that benefit both of our peoples. Millions of hard-working U.S. citizens have been left behind by international commerce, and together, we can shape a future where all of our citizens have a path to financial security. The United States will respect historic institutions and we will also recognize the right of free people to manage their own destiny.

The close friendship between America and Germany is built on our shared values. We cherish individual rights, we uphold the rule of law and we seek peace among nations. Our alliance is a symbol of strength and cooperation to the world. It is the foundation of a very, very hopeful future.

Thank you.

MERKEL (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure and privilege to be here today in the White House together with President Donald Trump and have a first personal one-on- one meeting and exchange of views.

MERKEL (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In the period leading up to this visit, I've always said it's much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another and I think our conversation proved this.

We talked about the international situation. We talked about also apprenticeship programs when we met with CEOs and apprentices around a roundtable.

As regards to the shared interests that we have, let me look back into the past. We, the Germans, owe a lot to the United States of America, particularly as regards the economic rise of Germany. This was primarily due to the help through the Marshall Plan.

We were also able to regain German unity after decades of the United States standing up for this together with other allies and standing by our side during the period of the Cold War, and we are very gratified to know that today we can leave in peace and freedom as a unified country due to that.

So I was gratified to know that the president underlined how important he thinks NATO is. NATO is of prime importance for us, and it was not without very good reason that we said during our summit meeting in Wales that also Germany needs to increase its expense -- expenditure.

We committed to this 2 percent goal until 2024 we -- last year we increased our defense spending by 8 percent, and we're going to work again and again on this. And we said that, obviously, defense and security has a lot of different assets and facets to it.

On the one hand, it's supporting missions, in Africa for example. It's also promoting development assistance, but it's also helping missions in Africa, for example, in trying to stand up for their own safety and security.

We continue to be in conversation, but what's important for us today was that we were able to talk about Afghanistan, and talk about what -- as the president quite rightly said, the continuing mission of Germany in Afghanistan.

I am very glad that the United States are intending to continue to commit to the Afghan mission as well. Together we fight against Islamist terrorism.

Germany is going to step up its work and is going to continue its work in Afghanistan. And also in Syria we're going to monitor the situation there very closely. We're going to work on political solutions in Syria but also in Libya -- what we talked about.

I am very gratified to know that the American administration, and also the president personally commit themselves to the Minsk process. We need to come to a solution of this problem.

There has to be a safe and secure solution for Ukraine, but the relationship with Russia has to be improved as well, once the situation there on the ground is clarified.

Minsk is a good basis but, unfortunately, we haven't made, yet, the headway that we want to but we are going to work together with our experts in the next few months to come on this issue.

I am also here in my capacity as G20 President. You know that we will be hosting the G20 visit -- the G20 summit, sorry, this year and I'm very pleased that the president has committed to address -- to attending this summit.

We're going to talk at some length over lunch about the issues. We say this has -- trade has to be rendered fairer. There has to be a win- win situation. We can talk about the details of that.

We've already seen today when we had an exchange with our CEOs and also with our apprentices what sort of potential we can tap, what sort of potential our two economies have.

It's very moving to see, particularly meeting with these young people, what sort of work towards the future is being done by our companies there.

So particularly in this period where we are transiting from traditional manufacturing to industry for (ph) that (ph) capacity building skills are so important. Incidentally, not only for young people but also for those who maybe have lost their jobs and need to be re-skilled in order to find a job again.

And that is an issue, I know, is very important for you here in the United States but it's also important for us in Germany.

So, I can say there are a number of issues where we will continue to cooperate very closely on the level of experts (ph), but also on our level. We had a very good first exchange of views so I'm very much looking forward to the talks we will have over lunch.

Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

We'll do a couple of questions.

Mark Halperin.

QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you.

A lot of Americans now (inaudible) like eight years ago (inaudible) debate (inaudible) what to do about healthcare. So I wonder if you could tell people where your bottom lines are, what's non-negotiable.

QUESTION: You talked in the past about (inaudible). No one should be denied health insurance if they can't afford it.

(UNKNOWN): The gentleman needs to use a microphone.

QUESTION: Are those just (inaudible) bottom line veto (inaudible) and finally (ph) to this. And that came from our (inaudible).

(Inaudible), President Trump's got a different style than most recent past U.S. presidents. I'm wondering what you think of that style? Do you think it's good for the world, or if you've got any reservations?

Thank you, both.

TRUMP: Thank you, Mark.

We just have a -- a really wonderful group of people meeting later.

We met with 12 pretty much noes in Congress. You saw that quite a while ago. And they went from all noes to all yeses.

And we have a lot of yeses coming in. It's all coming together.

We're gonna have great health care. It's going to be passed I believe -- I think substantially and pretty quickly.

It's coming together beautifully. You have the conservative groups, you have other groups. Everybody wants certain things.

In the end, we're gonna have a great health care plan.

Now, I have to tell you that Obamacare is a disaster. It's failing.

I was in Tennessee. We had a tremendous crowd the other night. And they have -- half of the state is uncovered. The insurance companies have left. And the other half has one insurance company. And that'll probably be bailing out pretty soon also. They'll have nobody here.

Many states where they have one. And you have a lot of places now where they'll have none. Obamacare will fail. It will fold. It will close up very, very soon if something isn't done.

I've often said politically the best thing I can do is absolutely nothing. Wait one year, and then even the Democrats will come say please, please, you got to help us. But it's not the right thing to do for the people.

We have a great plan. We have a plan that's getting more and more popular with the Republican base, with the conservative base, and with people generally.

The press has covered it very inaccurately. People are truly covered well. And I think it's gonna be something that's going to be a model to be looked upon.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I'll tell you after we're finished.

(LAUGHTER)

MERKEL (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Thank you very much.

Well, I'm here as chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. I represent German interests.

I speak with the president of the United States who, well, stands up for, as his right, American interests. That is our (ph) tasks, respectively. And I must say that I was very gratified to know the very warm and gracious hospitality with which I've been received here.

We held a conversation while we were trying to address also those areas where we disagreed, but to try to bring people together, try to show what is our vantage point, what is the American vantage point, and then try to find a compromise which is good for both sides, because we need to be fair with each other.

Each and every one is expecting for his or her leader that something good comes out of it for their own people.

For Germany, I can say, well, people are different. People have different abilities, have different characteristic -- traits of character, have different origins, have found their way into politics along different pathways, which -- well, that is diversity, which is good.

Sometimes it's -- it's difficult to find compromises, but that's what we've been elected for. If everything just went like that without problem, well you don't need politicians to do these jobs.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Christine Dunes (ph) from the German Press Agency.

Madam Chancellor, given that you have experience of the GDI, you are always saying that you are so confident that walls can fall also. So, how dangerous do you think this isolationist policy of the U.S. president is, what with the import tariffs that he's planned, and also with the fact that he doesn't think the E.U. -- doesn't deal with the E.U. (ph) in a very respectful way?

And then, Mr. President, America first, don't you think that this is going to weaken also the European Union? And why are you so scared of diversity in the news and in the media, that you speak so often of -- fake news -- and that things after all, in the end, cannot be proven. For example, the fact that you have been wiretapped by Mr. Obama.

TRUMP: A nice, friendly reporter. Well, first of all, I don't believe in an isolationist policy. But I also believe a policy of trade should be a fair policy.

And the United States has been treated very, very unfairly by many countries over the years. And that's going to stop. But I'm not an isolationist.

I'm a free trader, but I'm also a fair trader. And our free trade has led to a lot of bad things happening.

You look at the deficits that we have, and you look at all of the accumulation of debt. We're a very powerful company -- country. We're a very strong -- very strong country.

TRUMP: We'll soon be at a level that we perhaps have never been before. Our military is going to be strengthened. It's been depleted.

But I am a -- a trader. I am a fair trader. I am a trader that wants to see good for everybody worldwide, but I am not an isolationist by any stretch of the imagination. So I don't know what newspaper you are reading, but I guess that would be another example of, as you say, fake news.

MERKEL (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, allow me, if I may, to put it in the following terms. We haven't yet had time to talk at a great length about economic issues, but I would say that the success of Germany in the economic area, but also on security and peace, that the success of Germans have always been one where the German success (ph) 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 am deeply convinced and I am not only saying this back home, I am saying this here, I am saying it in the United States, also here in Washington in my talks with the president.

Secondly, I believe that globalization ought to be shaped in an open- minded way, but also in a very fair way, freedom of movement within the European Union, for example, is a very important element of our economic progress of peace, has been for many, many decades. The European countries for many, many centuries waged wars against each other. We have to protect our external borders because -- and there we have

to work on the basis of mutual interest with our neighbors, migration, immigration, integration, has to be worked on obviously, traffickers have to be stopped. But this has to be done by looking at the refugees as well, giving them opportunities to shape their own lives and where they are. Help countries who right now are not an inability to do so, sometimes because they have civil war.

I think that's the right way of going about it. And this is obviously, where we have an exchange of views about it, but my position is the one I've just set out for you.

TRUMP: I might add that we have many plants and factories coming back into the United States, many jobs are coming back to Michigan, to Ohio, Pennsylvania, to a lot of places where they were losing jobs. And we will have a different policy, but it's going to be a great policy for, not only for the United States, but a great policy worldwide. And I look very much forward to it. Kevin Sarully (ph).

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE). What exactly, sir, do you think (inaudible)? And in terms of trade, what areas of common ground, do you think (inaudible)?

And then for Chancellor Merkel, what do you anticipate could be the (inaudible)?

TRUMP: Well, Kevin (ph), I think we have a very unified Republican party. After all, we have the presidency, we have the House, we have the Senate. And we're getting along very well, I will tell you. And if you were at the meeting that I just attended, where we took 12 no's or semi no's, no yes', and within a short period of time, everyone was very much on board. And a commitment to vote yes.

I think we have a very unified party. I think actually more unified than even the election. You see when they talk about me, I seem to be very popular, at least this week within the party. Because we have our highest numbers -- the highest numbers that I've ever had in the party.

So I think there's a great unification. Health care is a very, very difficult subject, it's a very complex subject, and it's a subject that goes both ways. You do something for one side and the other side doesn't like it. But it's really something that's come together very well, and I think it's going to be very, very popular, extremely popular.

On trade with Germany, I think we're going to do fantastically well. Right now, I would say that the negotiators for Germany have done a far better job than the negotiators for the United States, but hopefully we can even it out. We don't want victory, we want fairness. All I want is fairness.

TRUMP: Germany has done very well in its trade deals with the United States, and I give them credit for it. But -- and I can speak too many other countries, when you look at China, you look at virtually any country that we do business with, it's not exactly what you call "good for our workers."

[14:30:00]