WHITE HOUSE - Standing alongside Germany’s chancellor, U.S. President Donald Trump emphasized on Friday that Iran would not be permitted to build a nuclear arsenal, even if a deal intended to prevent that scenario collapsed.
“They’re not going to be doing nuclear weapons. You can bank on it,” Trump told reporters.
Asked about possible actions, including use of force, that he could take if Iran restarted its nuclear weapons program, if the deal made in 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was abandoned, the president replied: “I don’t talk about whether or not I’d use military force.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, appearing with Trump at the news conference following their Friday meetings, described the JCPOA as “anything but perfect,” adding, “It will not solve all the problems of Iran.”
She described it as one piece to limit Iran’s bad actions, while saying Berlin considered it of “prime importance” to contain threats from Iran as it exerts geopolitical influence in Syria, which has been racked by years of civil war.
Merkel said her government would continue very close discussions with the United States as the president neared a decision on the Iranian nuclear accord, signed by Iran with China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.
The Trump administration is required to recertify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is complying with the deal. The next deadline is May 12.
The U.S. president repeatedly has heaped scorn on the agreement, referring to it as a “disgrace,” “stupid” and the “worst deal ever negotiated.”
Following a meeting Friday of foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in Brussels that “absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the flaws of the deal,” the U.S. president “is unlikely to stay in that deal.” Earlier in the week, French President Emmanuel Macron said in Washington that he did not believe he had been able to persuade Trump not to abandon the nuclear agreement.
Asked by journalists whether he thought the U.S. president would walk away from the pact, Macron replied, “That's my bet.”
Macron was seen by many as the foreign leader most likely to be able to change Trump’s mind because of the warm relationship between the two.
Trump on Friday greeted Merkel under the West Wing entry portico with a kiss on both cheeks and a handshake in the Oval Office, more affection than during Merkel’s initial White House visit 13 months ago when he appeared to refuse to shake her hand in the Oval Office.
Merkel’s relationship with Trump remains icy, according to The Washington Post, quoting a person who was in the room when the president was with Macron on Tuesday when Trump reportedly said he was “not looking forward to Merkel coming.”
According to Peter Rashish, senior fellow and director of the geoeconomics program at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, “there was always going to be a division of labor between Macron and Merkel with Trump.”
Rashish, a former vice president for Europe at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, noted that while “Macron is a gifted public performer, Merkel thrives in close-range, behind-the-scenes meetings. The cordial tone of the press conference suggests she was able to find a way to engage Trump in a way that could bear fruit further down the line.”
Alongside Trump, during several events Friday at the White House when reporters were in the room, Merkel remained mostly stone-faced. But there were a couple of flashes of puzzlement during their joint news conference when Trump made off-the-cuff remarks in his trademark fashion.
Trump and Merkel acknowledged they discussed other difficult matters, including the level of funding for NATO and trade tariffs.
“We had an exchange of views,” she said when asked about steel tariffs Trump is poised to impose on European exports. “The decision lies with the president.”
While Trump emphasized the need to bring down the EU trade surplus with the United States, the president also said he wanted to deepen economic ties with Europe, which observers saw as something new.
Merkel on Friday restated her interest in a U.S.-EU free-trade agreement.
“Put those two ideas together and you could imagine down the road the resumption of some version of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with a more Trumpian stamp,” Rashish told VOA.