The German press coverage of Chancellor Angela Merkel's first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington on Friday is occasion for all kinds of scrutiny of public comments, handshakes, smiles and anything else that body language might tell us. But the encounter that may count more happens behind closed doors.
And Merkel faces a tough balancing act in Washington on all fronts: not to appear too friendly nor be dominated by Trump. She also needs to be cautious not to offend an allied nation even though its leader represents everything she abhors. Merkel, who will run in a September for a fourth term as German leader, isn’t traveling alone to the U.S. She's accompanied by three of Germany's top business leaders (Siemens, BMW and Schaeffler Technologies) to secure deals for her export-reliant country, German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reports.
Can Merkel get what she wants?
A peek at her past experiences can provide some answers, whether it was meetings with former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Russian president Vladimir Putin, writes Philipp Wittrock in Der Spiegel. “But Trump is the world's most powerful man, and he really doesn't care about the rules of the political game. It won't be easy finding the right balance between closeness and distance," he notes.
Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, doesn’t scare easy. In previous dealings with autocrats who flexed their political muscle, Merkel didn’t try to up the ante. She instead adopted "jiu-jitsu's combat techniques" that let opponents run out of energy, columnist Holger Stark writes in German publication Die Zeit.
Merkel also has another trick up her sleeve. For sexist leaders like Berlusconi, she deployed what Der Spiegel describes as "a mix of charm and toughness." It was so efficient that "diplomats still tell stories today about how she wrapped the vain Italian leader around her little finger," the paper notes.
Will Merkel’s martial arts technique and charm offensive work on Trump? It's hard to say. But we’ll be closely watching the public signs of what may have happened in private.