Press Briefing: Macron and Merkel Visit Washington
April 20, 2018
COLM QUINN: OK, guys. Thank you so much for coming this morning. We always, always appreciate it, and I want to highlight as usual please take the food. If you’re leaving, if you’re coming, it’s for you.
HEATHER A. CONLEY: Please eat. Please eat.
MR. QUINN: So please eat it. You guys need all this energy today. (Laughter.)
We are very lucky today to have two of our best experts on these issues today. First you’re going to hear from Heather Conley. She’s our senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic. And she’s also the director of our Europe program. Then you’re going to hear from Jeff Rathke, who is the deputy director of the Europe Program and senior fellow here.
I’m Colm Quinn. I work in our Communications Department here. My colleague Sofi Kodner is also here today. If you do need anything following up on this, we will be running transcripts that will be sent to you later in the day. But if you do need anything from us please, please, we are here to help.
And without further ado, I will hand over to Heather.
MS. CONLEY: Thank you, Colm. Good morning. Thank you so much.
And we thought it might be a good use of time to preview, to use a baseball analogy, next week’s European doubleheader, two very important meetings with President Trump and two European leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. So, to keep this baseball analogy going, if this was a double header, yesterday’s meeting between Macron and Merkel in Berlin was a bit of spring training as they geared themselves up for the big event next week.
I think these two leaders, and these two sets of meetings will be an incredible window into two leaders and their very contrasting styles. The two leaders will be largely aligned on the substance that they will discuss with the president. But, boy, are you going to see two very different styles on display.
I think with President Macron, you’ll see a young, brash, supremely confident Jupiterian, as he says, leader who’s very image conscious. He’s known as a populist and nationalism player. He’s a European cheerleader. He is a savior of the planet from climate change. And very fortunately, he really has no meaningful opposition at home. So he’s come from his three-day state visit. President Macron is going to spend a great deal of time with President Trump. And I’ll talk about that in a minute.
In some ways, President Macron, I believe, has broken the code when it comes to dealing with President Trump, with a very close ally and partner. He has been, I think, the most successful in trying to convince the president to think through some very important issues, certainly to France and to the European Union. Now, let’s contrast that to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She is Europe’s longest-serving European leader. She is a scientist. She is cautious. She is careful. Her nickname is Mutti, or mother. She’s low-key. She’s an everyday person, a slayer of political challengers and egotistical males. She is a step-by-step stability means all. And she will have her one-day visit with President Trump. In, out, get the job done. So we will see those two contrasting styles next week.
What we thought we’d do is I – we’ll split duties here. I’ll give you the overview of President Macron’s state visit. And then Jeff will turn to Chancellor Merkel’s visit. We’ll try to catch each other if we forget something from the other. And then we really look forward to your questions and to your comments. So let’s begin with – I’m nicknaming the next three days of next week will be Macron mania.
We will have – the president will have two dinners with President Macron. A private dinner at Mount Vernon, again, a wonderful historic and sweeping backdrop, because of the strength – the historic strength of the U.S.-French relationship. President Macron will have lunch with Vice President Pence. He will speak to a joint session of Congress. He’s going to give a public address at George Washington University, and then a press conference at the end of his visit. So we are really going to hear from President Macron. We’re going to hear his views. And I think we will see his energy on full display.
This will be a visit of symbolism of the strength and, as I said, the history of the U.S.-French relationship. I think it will be more symbolism than substance. I think in some ways it’s a reflection – we have come to look at presidential meetings as opportunities to further policy and provide deliverables. I think that’s been – we really don’t have the sense of deliverables. I think in part it’s due to the unpredictable decision making of President Trump. We don’t know what will happen until President Trump does speak to the policy matter. And even sometimes that can change very abruptly.
I think probably the overarching substantive issue will be – this visit will be dubbed the save the Iran nuclear agreement trip. Both President Macron and Chancellor Merkel will be focusing very much on that trip. The French have historically been the toughest EU three – that’s U.K., France, and Germany – on being tough on Iran, getting the toughest compliance possible. So in some ways, President Macron is the best to provide the president with those – the toughness that he wants about and towards Iran, but trying to do so in a way that preserves the Iran nuclear agreement, or JCPOA.
But I think it’s very clear the French delegation has minimal expectations about what they’re going to be able to accomplish. And in fact, his week the European Union foreign ministers, while they’re working towards a tough package vis-à-vis Iran on their missile development program, they are going to hold that and wait to see what the president decides to do on May the 12 th. And I think, again, President Macron has described Europe is with them, but they need that agreement to remain in place. They will not put those on the table until they see what, ultimately, the president decides. And one of course, one of the main sticking points is the sunset clause provisions in the in the JCPOA.
After Iran, tariffs and the economy will be another very important subject. The European Union would like to have a permanent exemption of the tariff, have that announcement made before May 1 before the interim tariff will have to be decided upon.
It’s very interesting. I think in some ways France and the United States have a – right now a similar bent on the need for a little more protectionist practices of national industries, but very interesting that President Macron’s entire domestic economic agenda is about reforming the French system in order for it to be globally competitive, and he’s running into some resistance to that, but in some ways, the protectionism, and the reform, and preparing the French economy to be more resilient to global trends I think is an important comparison.
The tariff and the economy will lead to a natural discussion on China, and I think this is really where – where next week a missed opportunity for both France and Germany – in fact, the entire EU has the same concerns about China’s economic practices, overcapacity, dumping, intellectual property, lack of access of EU firms in China that are exactly the same as the U.S. This would lend itself for a natural opportunity for the European Union and the U.S. to work together to create those new rules; it’s unclear whether those opportunities will be found. But China will certainly be part of Macron and Trump’s conversations, and I would suspect a significant part of the conversation with Chancellor Merkel.
Syria. Syria is another very important topic. I think – although President Macron and President Trump enjoy a very good relationship – I think that was really cemented over the last few days and weeks that they really coordinated so very closely on the airstrikes on Syria because of the chemical weapons use.
President Macron, for the last several weeks and months, has been extremely tough on his rhetoric about a red line on chemical use. In fact, some are expressing concern that he was running into a President Obama problem like – with the red line and then not executing that militarily. I think that it was very important for France to be involved in that – in the most recent airstrikes.
But the question around Syria would be now what. President Macron very much wants to see a diplomatic process come through. He wants more U.S. engagement, he wants to talk to President Trump about what the U.S. policy towards Syria will be at the same moment where President Trump has publicly announced that his desire is to remove U.S. forces from Syria, and certainly looks like now is going to agree that, over the next several months, that will happen. So that will be an interesting, I think – at least if the leaders comment publicly on their two positions on Syria and a diplomatic process moving forward.
Finally, the last several issues: Russia. I think there is general agreement in Paris – and President Trump – on Russia policy. Again, there was strong reaction about Syria and encouraging Russia to do more to try to find resolution. The Skripal poisoning was also strongly viewed in France the same way it was in the U.S., which was why the expulsions were so pronounced, although the expulsions did create some tension. I think President Trump was under the impression that France and Germany would expel many more diplomats than they had done. I think that was a misunderstanding, but this may be an issue that is raised as well.
France would like to maintain its economic relationship with Russia. In fact, next month President Macron will travel to Russia where he will have important meetings with President Putin, perhaps we’ll learn more about President Trump’s vision of holding a summit meeting with President Putin sometime in the future, and President Macron will be featured at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum next month as well. So there’s going to be a robust discussion there. President Macron doesn’t shy away from addressing tough issues with President Putin – domestic issues, human rights issues – but again, they want to maintain those ties.
President Macron, finally, will certainly talk about climate change. He is always encouraging the United States to return to the Paris climate agreement. I suspect he will have no luck with President Trump, but I would suspect he will have that message with the students in trying to speak to a next generation.
NATO and Europe I hope are on the agenda – some discussion with the leaders on the upcoming July NATO agenda, fine-tuning that. And I hope President Macron talks about the future of Europe, the European Union. This is a very important issue to the United States. It does not necessarily receive, I think, the attention that it deserves from the Trump administration.
So, at the end of the day, what will President Macron bring back to Paris with him after three days of his state visit to Washington? I think you’ll see stronger ties, strengthened ties, strengthening of the relationship between President Macron and President Trump. But I think both the French and the American delegations are clearly uncertain exactly how the direction of these discussions will go. And so I think we will, as we always do, wait and see what President Trump always tells us. We will wait to see what will happen.
And I think at the end of that visit, you will now see a completely different tone with the president as he addresses Chancellor Merkel.
Over to you.
JEFFREY RATHKE: Thank you, Heather. And thanks for coming out today.
I’ll pick up right there because there is ‒ Chancellor Merkel is coming not for a state visit, she’s coming for a working visit that will last about 24 hours. So it won’t have the ceremonial aspects that come with the visit of President Macron. So that may, in some ways, heighten the contrasts in the public perception of these visits beyond what might be merited by the substance. But nonetheless, I think that impression, that gap in impressions will be noticeable.
So, if President Macron and France in some ways are an ideal partner for this president and for this U.S. administration, that also has to do with structural factors. The style points Heather mentioned are absolutely correct.
It also has to do with the nature of the French and German states. France has a presidential system and the president has wide authority to act basically unilaterally. And France also has a readiness and an ambition historically to play an important role on the global stage, usually with the partners and allies, but if necessary alone. And that could not stand in starker contrast to Germany’s political system. It’s a parliamentary democracy where governments are coalitions and they are based on compromises. And that places constraints on any chancellor, not just Angela Merkel, to act, you know, boldly and on the spur of the moment.
Similarly, Germany is an ally of the United States, but it is one that is more dependent on the United States for security than France is. And so ‒ and Germany did not have the ambition for autonomous actions and for playing an independent role on the world stage. That’s because Germany’s foreign policy for the last 70 years has placed itself in a certain kind of ‒ a certain set of international handcuffs as a way of reassuring the international community, and also its population, that there can and never will be any repeat of Germany’s mid-20th-century and early-20 th-century experience; in other words, ruling out German unilateralism. All of that makes Germany a bit more difficult partner for the U.S. under this administration particularly to engage with.
But if Chancellor Merkel is not the soulmate of Donald Trump and if Germany is not the tailormade partner for the Trump administration, nevertheless it is indispensable for most concerted actions within Europe. And so, you know, nothing happens that is beyond perhaps military action like we saw in Syria, nothing happens without Germany. This is something that President Macron himself recognizes and has been reminded of just in the last couple of days. He has an ambitious vision for Europe, but he can’t implement it without Chancellor Merkel’s support.
And a large part of their spring training meeting yesterday, as Heather referred to it, was focused on the goal Germany and France have to present EU reform proposals by the end of June when there is an EU summit. And Chancellor Merkel’s caution and Germany’s weight as the largest economy in the European Union by far have made this a slower process and is lowering the level of ambition in ways that are unmistakable. So, however frustrating Germany’s caution is, the Franco-German partnership is essential, and Merkel and Macron will be in sync next week in Washington on most of the substantive issues.
This will be the third official meeting between President Trump and Chancellor Merkel. The first one was in Washington in March of 2017, a bilateral meeting, and then the two leaders met in Hamburg in July during the G-20 summit that Chancellor Merkel hosted. A lot of the focus surrounding those visits was on the atmospherics – the handshakes, the non-handshakes. But substantively you also see a bit of wariness on both sides, and you see a consistent threat of friction over bilateral trade with President Trump complaining about the trade imbalance – a trade imbalance, by the way, that Merkel is unable to address herself, since that’s an EU responsibility, not a national responsibility – but also Germany’s burden-sharing on defense and its low level of defense spending.
Now, turning to the particular issues on both Macron’s and Merkel’s minds next week, there are a few of those where Germany is particularly crucial. Trade issues would be the first one, both transatlantic trade but more generally.
On transatlantic trade, Germany is the largest EU economy. It is a trade-driven economy. I would highlight that the European Union is poised to retaliate if the United States does not extend the exemption on aluminum and steel tariffs, so there is a bit of a threat there of reaction.
On China more particularly, the economic issues are important for Germany. Germany is, again, a trade-driven economy, and the Made in China 2025 project is something that hits home for Germany where its small- and medium-sized enterprises have the same intellectual property concerns, the same technology transfer concerns that the United States has had for many years. And, as China’s outward investment is now exceeding the inward investment of European countries in China, the question of investment screening and investment in strategic issues rises in importance.
So you can see the outlines here of a way forward, perhaps, because the United States and Europe have the same sets of concerns with regard to China and its economic role. The question is whether they can put aside the relatively less important transatlantic trade disagreements and focus on addressing those much larger and longer-term issues. That will be, in a way, one of the central challenges of these visits next week.
With regard to Russia, it is important to point out that the international sanctions effort – the U.S. and European sanctions on Russia as a result of its intervention in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea – have been an important transatlantic effort, coordinated quite well by the Obama administration and also now by the Trump administration. Europe bears most of that burden. Ninety percent of that burden for Russia sanctions falls on European companies. And of the European countries, Germany bears the largest part of that European burden. So Chancellor Merkel’s view on keeping a common approach and sustaining it will be – will be central.
I would also point out that on the bilateral – or on the national side, Germany has been criticized a lot for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. And Chancellor Merkel made an important shift in Germany’s position just in the last week or two. She was hosting Ukrainian President Poroshenko, and she acknowledged for the first time publicly that this is not just an economic project, not a commercial project; it has a political dimension, and that it is important for Germany that Ukraine’s future as a gas transit company be assured no matter how this goes forward, which is a strong signal toward Russia and toward Ukraine on an issue where Washington has been frustrated for many years with the German position.
On Syria, Germany has the same concern as France, to have a diplomatic process and a long-term international engagement to protect Western interests in Syria, although Germany is not a muscular actor, certainly not in the strikes recently, and it plays a supporting role rather than a striking role in the – in the coalition against ISIS.
On the NATO summit, we can perhaps talk about that, but the burden sharing is the issue what the United States leads with when it talks about NATO and when it talks to Germany. Germany has been increasing its defense budget. It went up by about 8 percent last year. But that’s starting from a relatively low basis. It’s about at 1.24 percent of GDP. And – but I think the – looking more broadly, the question is no so much the level of spending, but what you get from it. Germany’s spending on equipment is much lower than the NATO target. And Germany’s defense budget is about the same size of France’s, but Germany has fewer armed – fewer people in uniform. And it does not have the same kinds of capabilities that France has. So focusing on how to make Germany’s capability contribution to NATO more effective is, I think, and important part of it.
We can talk more about the bilateral economic relationship, but I think at this point I’ll pause and we’ll look for your questions. Thanks.
Q: George Condon with the National Journal.
Two questions. One, in earlier meetings with President Trump, European leaders have expressed, privately at least, frustration that he doesn’t seem to understand some of the basics. For example, he wants to negotiate bilateral trade agreements and has not accepted that it has to go through the EU. On NATO funding, he repeatedly says that they owe back dues and owe the United States money. And no matter how many times they explain the funding formula to Trump. Does that frustration remain, or have they gotten past that?
And a second question, both of you are veterans of the State Department. How are Germany and France responding – how are things affected by how hollow the State Department is and how dysfunctional it currently is?
MS. CONLEY: Well, I’ll take a whack and let Jeff also jump in. I mean, I think there is a broader frustration with European leaders across the administration on just the overall lack of knowledge and understanding of the European Union and how it works. It is complex. But whether that’s from GDPR, the general directive on data protection, or trade issues, I think there’s a broader lack of understanding about how the EU functions. But you’re right, I think there is a difficulty that the president seeks a bilateral trade agreement. And he will be working, you know, in a bilateral way with Brussels – let Brussels represent the 28 countries. And I know that was a misunderstanding in the early visits by European leaders with the president.
But, you know, this is – this is on the job training. You just have to keep working at explaining those basics. You’re right on NATO. While, yes, there is a – there’s a general misperception about how NATO common funding works, how NATO contributes, how the U.S. contributes to that budget, we’ll take as a positive. But I think the president is, in some ways, internalizing and taking credit. This NATO has been responding to increases in defense spending. Now, that’s, again, in 2014 at the Wales NATO summit because of Russian actions in Ukraine. But I think if he feels that he’s part of the solving the problem, perhaps that will lead to a more constructive dialogue.
On the State Department, I think in some ways one of the – one, if not only assistant secretary that has been confirmed at the State Department is the assistant secretary for European affairs, Wess Mitchell. So, in fact, they do have a senior official that is guiding policy, has been to Berlin and Paris, has been on the job for quite some time. But you are right, it is where the – sort of the upper levels. But Undersecretary Tom Shannon, Acting Secretary John Sullivan have been engaged in this on the European portfolio. But I think, quite frankly, it’s even – it’s even more broadly felt, because we just don’t have clarity on very important policies – like, you know, what will the president’s decision be about Iran. What is our Syria policy? What is our Russia policy? Those are the broader issues, quite frankly, that if there isn’t clarity as a whole of government it’s hard for the State Department to articulate the policy if they don’t know what it is.
MR. RATHKE: I agree. U.S.-European relations are, by their nature, multilateral. And that is a system that the United States built and promoted as part of a U.S.-led global alliance network that has dominated international politics for decades.
And so, naturally, it causes consternation and confusion for our allies who have ‒ who have embedded themselves in that system when the U.S. approach changes. So there’s no question that this is a ‒ this is a persistent, lingering concern that our European allies. Are they going to have to have the same conversation again?
It’s been clear from some things the president has said in recent months he certainly recognizes that the European Union is responsible for trade, but it may not stop him from harping on the bilateral aspects of U.S.-European economic relations. So it is ‒ it is a concern.
I think the bigger issue is the absence of an articulated U.S. government strategy toward Europe that brings together civilian cooperation, law enforcement cooperation, trade, political and diplomatic action outside of the transatlantic space, as well as security and military issues. We have ‒ you know, there’s a lot of wheels on that car and the one wheel where the United States is focused has been the military one, in particular NATO and burden sharing and then actions like in Syria. But that’s inadequate for the ‒ to reflect the full range of U.S. interests and of European interests, and that’s a ‒ that’s a great cause of frustration for European partners.
Q: My name is Joanna Tichen (ph). I work for Voice of America. And I also have two questions.
So sort of a follow up with the ‒ you just explained the (big ?) focus from the American side for the relationship, but Europe also is not in good shape. It has internal problems. It has political fragmentation, the rise of the right, economically many of the nations are not doing so well. So a split between Eastern Europe and Western Europe is also possible. And Merkel, after 12 years, is not stronger than she was before. She came out of the election, it took her more than five months to create a coalition she ‒ (inaudible). I assume that also affects the conversation and can affect the conversation. So I just wanted to get your – both of your perspectives on that.
The other thing is, it is true and evident that Macron has some kind of a personal relationship with ‒ much better than most European leaders – with President Trump. And also, it’s sort of a high-profile visit that’s been avoided here in Washington by European leaders. It was sort of reversed during the Obama administration. Angela Merkel was very much present in the U.S., sort of in this relationship. She was the most ‒ (inaudible) ‒ and had a very close relationship with Obama. That doesn’t mean in time that France will play a much more important role, (even ?). I remember there was a famous particular sort of line saying – (inaudible) – and is this now Paris ‒ (inaudible)?
MS. CONLEY: You want to take the first one?
MR. RATHKE: So the first thing I would mention is, you know, you’re right that at the end of the Obama administration the relationship between President Obama and Chancellor Merkel became perhaps the most important transatlantic relationship for the United States, but it didn’t start out that way. So, you know, there is always ‒ there is always the possibility of change.
You know, Merkel was very cautious about Obama when he took office and there were some concerns in Europe that President Obama was ignoring Europeans, ignoring Europe. And that ‒ and that changed over time, so it’s hard to tell what the dynamic may be, but you’re certainly right how things look at the start.
You know, Chancellor Merkel was weakened by the election last September, but I would caution against, you know, projecting that too far. I mean, she is ‒ she is firmly in command of German politics. Her coalition got off to a somewhat rocky start, but there is – you know, there is not likely to be any rapid transition away from her leadership. And she may try to, you know, introduce some kind of a transition during her term, but that still remains to be seen.
Economic growth. There are – there is some fragility in Europe, but economic growth in the eurozone has been roughly equivalent to that in the United States over the past year. So I don’t think the Europeans are feeling that they are in a – in a weaker position economically with respect to the United States, although they certainly have their challenges.
And then the ultimate issue is, do those – do those personal relationships actually produce something? You know, if you look at, you know – you know, it’s not my area of expertise, but if you look at the visit of Prime Minister Abe to Mar-a-Lago, it’s not – where there’s clearly a good personal relationship – it’s not clear what Japan’s gotten out of that. And if you look at the, you know, substantive frustrations that France has had – Paris Climate Accords, trade, uncertainty about Syria – you know, the – sometimes the atmospherics can distract from the actual outcomes.
MS. CONLEY: Yeah, I was speaking to two Europeanists that would love to have an entire seminar on the challenges of Brexit; illiberalism in Central Europe; Italy’s fragility right now and what that means for the Italian economy and the eurozone economy; splits between Northern Europe, Southern Europe. Incredible challenges, which is why in some ways this is the conversation that should be happening in the Oval Office about the strength of our allies because we need Europe to be strong, to be with us as we meet global challenges, and their fragility should be of great concern. However, I don’t think it’s going to be much of the discussion, unfortunately.
We have over the last decade become hyper-transactional. It is all about the what is needed today, and then we disregard the broader implications of that. And to Jeff’s point about we don’t have an overarching strategy for our allies to keep our allies strong, and therefore the alliance strong, so we can really focus on our adversaries and how they’re trying to erode the international system.
And just to underscore Jeff’s last point, which really is sort of the – I think the bottom line, particularly for President Macron’s visit: A great relationship is wonderful, but it must be used. And if President Macron, you know, continues to leave – like, you know, the Paris climate agreement, you know, came out of that. If tariffs are to be imposed against the EU, didn’t – (inaudible) – that. Iran, he came out of the agreement, didn’t do that. I mean, it starts to become a question of I’m so glad you have a great relationship, you can talk to him all the time, but how is that being leveraged? And again, this becomes the concern.
And also, I think, the volatility. Every European diplomat can come and speak to all of their counterparts and they may be told one thing, and then we may be – they receive a communication from the president that completely undercuts that. So a lot of work that goes to try to understand is very undercut. So it’s just a challenging dynamic, of which both European and American diplomats have just never had that much uncertainty, I think, and volatility in really the overarching policies.
MR. QUINN: Yes?
Q: My name is Patrick Kelley. I’m a reporter at Congressional Quarterly.
You mentioned that President Macron will give a joint address to Congress. I’m wondering what you think his message to Congress and to the American people will be.
And then a second question is, I believe – I could be wrong – that the Syria strike was the first time that there was a Trump-led military action with allies. Now, I know it wasn’t under the NATO flag, but it was two allies in NATO. And so I’m just wondering, you know, what does that say about maybe Trump’s ability to (work with ?) a coalition in a military strike? Do you think that there are any battlefields maybe outside of Syria that he might look to allies for in the future if there’s – (inaudible) – but within those, you know – (inaudible)?
MS. CONLEY: Patrick, thank you. I think we would all love an advance copy of President Macron’s 30-minute message to Congress. We’ll see if it’s 30 minutes. President Macron can give some stemwinders, so we’ll see how long that goes.
I would suspect it’s going to, again, try to – and I think this is very important. One element of President Macron’s visit that personally I am extremely happy that he’s doing, he’s awarding to U.S. veterans during the Second World War that fought for France’s freedom. I don’t like to – it’s very easy for us to wash ourselves in historic neuralgia, but this is a point for the next generation about what freedom is and when allies must fight for that freedom for one another, and I hope he pulls some of those historical notes to help a new generation of American leaders understand why this is important, why our oldest ally is important to us, why the relationship is.
I would suspect he’s going to spend some time on Iran, but again – and French diplomats have been working very closely with members of Congress. Senator Corker was making some comments about that. They are trying to keep the right policy framework, and build on it, and toughen it, but again, the message really is – the decision is for President Trump.
You know, the funny thing is we have a lot of experience working with allies in military operations, tragically. We’ve been working with NATO and military allies in Afghanistan for 17 years, so it comes extremely naturally. The Libya – you’re absolutely right. This does – is the first coalition airstrike under President Trump, but again, the same people were doing that for Libyan operations and elsewhere. So I think in some ways, taking the president out of the equation, this has been something we know how to do. Unfortunately, we just are having to do it time and time again.
I think the broader question is really we only have two allies in Europe – the U.K. and France – that could take that – undertake that type of operation, that has those capabilities, and are politically willing to do that, and perhaps that’s the greater reflection. The Obama administration was extremely reluctant to call on NATO as an organization to engage in Syria and Iraq. I think at the NATO summit in July we’ll talk about how NATO – a training mission for Iraq. It’s really not been an instrument in this type of operation. This is where I think a coalition of the willing that have the operational capabilities, the power projection, and the political will to use are really absolutely critical to the equation.
MR. RATHKE: I would just add that whether it’s in the joint session of Congress or in his town hall at George Washington University, another thing that I expect President Macron to address is his vision of Europe and how that relates to the United States because I think the understanding of where Europe is and where it’s headed could be deepened in the United States, and so seeing Europe as a partner in his vision of the future of the European Union, I think, is something that may be important to him. And it also, you know, helps him as he deals with Germany and the rest of the European Union on the future of the EU, so I think he may find it valuable and brave that.
On the strikes, Heather is right. This was – the strikes in Syria were – you know, it depends on the purpose of the strikes. The strikes in Syria were limited in scope and designed to, you know, enforce the international norm against chemical weapons usage, and so a small coalition of capable countries able to do it quickly made the most sense, and the president has – (inaudible) – quite similar to the way this administration has been looking at a lot of international problems. If you want to do something on a sustained basis, then you need to have a broader collection of allies involved, and so that I think would be the real test when you get to a challenge that is not just something, you know, limited in scope like we just saw.
MR. QUINN: Anyone else?
Q: Actually, I had one more.
MR. QUINN: Sure.
Q: You mentioned the effect of tariffs on the EU. How much is that dividing the two sides, and specifically on Germany, the president always comes back to German cars. He harps on that. I don’t know how accurate he is on the actual numbers, but is this something that Merkel is likely to try to deal with, will she just ignore it? I mean, how much is that affecting the relationship?
MR. RATHKE: I think it is – it is a clear sticking point, and the president, by all accounts, brings this up repeatedly with Chancellor Merkel, and the – it is – it is a – and it’s one that causes great concern for Germany and for Europe more generally because, you know, the transatlantic economy is the most integrated economic relationship in the world. You know, we’re talking about, you know, two-way trade of over $1 trillion every year. The mutual investments are the highest in the world. And so anything that damages that trading relationship has the potential to spiral out of control. But it also can’t go unanswered by the Europeans. You know, they’ve got their own politics. And so if the tariffs on aluminum and steel go back – go into effect on Europe, I think there will be – there will be a need for Europe’s own kind of self-respect, but also to defend its trading interests in responding.
On the cars, you know, it is true that they’re – that the European Union has different tariffs on American cars going to Europe than there exist on European cars coming here. But that’s a small part of this industrial relationship. The United States has a 25 percent tariff on trucks and larger vehicles that come from Europe into the United States which, of course, protects the American SUV market and the truck market. So, you know, it’s easy to cherry-pick a specific aspect of that trading relationships when in fact those tariffs have been in existence for decades. They – you know, they came about long before this administration. And if you want to address them, you’ve got to address comprehensively all the trade issues that exist. That includes agriculture. That includes, you know, other trade in goods. And so, you know, that, I think, is one of the frustrations that the Europeans have, is singling out a particular sector without looking at the larger whole.
And then just to end maybe on that, if you look at Germany, if you talk about trade imbalance in goods, you know, the Germans will always respond with Germany’s investments in the United States. Germany has larger investments in the United States than the other way around – about $291 billion in 2016 in German investments in the United States. And those investments support about 680,000 U.S. jobs. So – and many of which are high-skilled manufacturing jobs. So, you know, what is the – that’s a huge benefit to the U.S. economy. And Chancellor Merkel tried to point that out last year when she was here, by bringing a German economic delegation with her that talked about the effect of that investment and, in particular, vocational and job training efforts that the German companies make in those particular states where they’re most active. So I think that’s, you know, I think a wider view of that relationship.
MS. CONLEY: Couldn’t say it better myself.
Q: Can you talk about – a little bit more about Russia?
MS. CONLEY: Well –
MR. RATHKE: Where do you want to start? (Laughter.)
MS. CONLEY: Yeah. So, yeah, exactly. So I think it’s where – I think there’s great alignment between the U.S. and Europe, once again with NATO. You know, Germany leads the NATO battalion in Lithuania on the eastern flank. France has contributed a company to those forces. There is coordination between the U.S. and EU on sanctions, although I’d like to see a little bit more. There are differences, and they should – they need to be knitted together. The expulsions demonstrated good coordination. And so, you know, I think on the broad set of how we’re approaching a Russian policy and punishing behavior, trying to alter behavior, I think that’s been very good and very important.
But, again, I think that the question mark is there’s just larger questions about exactly where Russia policy exists here in Washington. I’ve identified four different places where Russia policy is made. First, it’s made in Congress. And that’s sanctions. And we’re continuing to see more drafting of sanction language. You have the Defense Department, the intelligence communities, and what they’re pursuing against Russian election interference and looking at the expulsions and things like that, and very muscular Defense Department policies, and the National Security Strategy declaring that Russia is a rival and a peer competitor to the United States.
Evidently, after this weekend, you have policy that’s formulated at the United Nations with Ambassador Haley. And then you have President Trump’s Russia policy. And all four of those exist in the same universe. And of course, the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election continues to sort of be a cloud over all four of those policymaking centers. So it’s just very hard to know where that policy exists. And in Europe, it’s been holding steady, but I think it can do no more because of the differences in approach within the EU.
You’ll see for the NATO summit how much more advancement can be made on strengthening NATO’s resilience to deter Russian aggression. But, you know, I think we’re sort of steady as we go as far as that is, I just ‒ I don’t see it being advanced during this conversation. I’m, in effect, trying to figure out how the president, President Trump, views this future. And for me, I’m most interested in what the agenda would be in this upcoming summit with President Putin and President Trump and I hope that’s articulated a little bit through the next week.
Jeff, did you want to say something?
MR. RATHKE: The only thing I would add is that, you know, the approaches to Russia are mostly harmonious, even if they aren’t coordinated actively in every instance. Where they are ‒ where there has been relatively little coordinated action has been on the issue Heather mentioned of responding to Russia’s attempts to influence and subvert democratic societies. And that affects, you know, the entire transatlantic community and it’s where the, you know, the United States has failed to lead a coordinated response, and so that is a big gap and it’s one that is probably not going to be closed any time soon because the issue is simply too sensitive to touch domestically in this political environment in the United States.
But there’s also a dynamic in Europe that people have been concerned about for a while, which is the sustainability of sanctions. People have predicted over and over again that Europe will go soft on sanctions and it hasn’t happened. And that’s largely due to the leadership of Chancellor Merkel, President Macron, Prime Minister May and also a lot of countries like Poland that have had interest in this.
But you still ‒ you know, let’s see what government takes office in Italy. And is that going to be a ‒ then you would have a large European economy that might have a different view on sanctions. So I think that is an issue to watch, even though it won’t affect next week’s talks.
MS. CONLEY: OK, thank you.
MR. QUINN: Great. Before we go, I want to thank again Heather and Jeff for your views, and thank you all for joining as well. We will be sending out a transcript of this conversation later on today. If for some reason ‒ maybe you got forwarded this by a colleague and you aren’t on our list, just talk to me afterwards and I’ll make sure you get all that.
Again, thanks so much.
MS. CONLEY: OK, thank you.
MR. RATHKE: Great.