Germany's Merkel next to visit Trump on a mission of 'damage limitation'

  • Touching down in the afterglow of her French counterpart's three-day visit, Merkel arrives in Washington to try to find a compromise with the president on a raft of divisive issues.
  • The Iran nuclear deal, the prospect of U.S. tariffs on European metals products and Berlin's military spending are all politically sensitive topics seen as likely to come up during Merkel's working lunch with Trump.
  • Eurasia Group's Charles Lichfield said Macron's trip to the U.S. had no implications on the balance of power in Europe because the so-called "Trump-whisperer didn't actually get him to agree to very much."
U.S. President Donald Trump (R), French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) at the start of the first working session of the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017.
John MacDougall | AFP | Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump (R), French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) at the start of the first working session of the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is embarking on a one-day working visit to meet President Donald Trump on Friday, harboring no illusions of matching the "special relationship" formed by France's Emmanuel Macron.

Touching down in the afterglow of her French counterpart's three-day visit, Merkel arrives in Washington to try to find a compromise with the president on a raft of divisive issues.

The Iran nuclear deal, the prospect of U.S. tariffs on European metals products and Berlin's military spending are all politically sensitive topics seen as likely to come up during Merkel's working lunch with Trump.

"Macron has a good personal relationship with Trump and Merkel has a bad relationship with him, but it's not necessarily a problem. In fact, I don't actually think she cares that much about it," Charles Lichfield, Europe associate at Eurasia Group, told CNBC in a phone interview on Friday.

"This trip is about damage limitation. We are almost in crisis mode with tariffs being threatened, so her focus has to be on that," he added.

'Horrible deal'

Merkel is visiting the U.S. in the hope of averting a trade war between the world's largest economy and the European Union (EU). It is thought German officials will try to convince Trump that Washington's trade deficit with Berlin is not just shrinking, but some of the factors behind their trade partnership are out of the chancellor's control.

Nonetheless, Trump is seen as unlikely to shift from his current position that the trading relationship between the two is clearly biased in Europe's favor.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel before the first working session of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017.
Kay Nietfeld | Pool | Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel before the first working session of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017.

France's Macron had initially sought to persuade the Trump administration to abandon its combative stance on both trade and the Iran nuclear accord. However, some analysts questioned whether his tactile relationship with Trump had yielded any tangible results for the EU.

Eurasia Group's Lichfield said Macron's trip to the U.S. had no implications on the balance of power in Europe because the so-called "Trump-whisperer didn't actually get him to agree to very much."

In fact, Trump said Thursday that Macron "really came to recognize" his viewpoint on the Iran nuclear deal.

"He is viewing, I believe, Iran a lot differently than he did before he walked into the Oval Office and I think that's important," Trump said on Fox News. He went onto reaffirm his belief the Obama administration had agreed to a "horrible deal" to freeze Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Macron and Merkel's trips to the U.S. come shortly before a May 12 deadline, set by Trump, to improve on an international deal to curb Iran's nuclear program.

The president has threatened to pull out from the accord between Tehran and six world powers, signed in 2015 before he took office — unless Germany, France and Britain helped to agree on a follow-up pact by that date.

Germany's 'shrinking' global role

Merkel, who was once seen as the torchbearer for liberal democracy, has not enjoyed a warm alliance with Trump. And since losing ground in September's general election, Germany's premier has been accused of being in a strategic retreat on the international stage. In a recent Der Spiegel editorial, the newspaper lamented Berlin's "incredibly shrinking role" as a global player.

That is in sharp contrast to just two years earlier when, shortly after Trump's election victory in November 2016, former President Barack Obama flew to Germany and hailed Merkel as the "closest international partner" of his eight years in office. Thereafter, domestic newspapers had declared Merkel as the somewhat reluctant "leader of the free world."

— Reuters contributed to this article.