Germany, US in 'owes me, owes me not' dispute

Trump brought up the issue of NATO when he was campaigning for president, saying the US was paying too much into the alliance and complaining that other countries who were benefiting from the treaty were not paying their fair share.

Trump said some countries owe "vast sums" in dues, which is "very unfair to the United States" - an allegation that appeared to be based on an incomplete understanding of how the alliance is funded.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said overnight that "there's no debtor's account at North Atlantic Treaty Organisation", adding: "To tie the 2 per cent of defence spending, which we want to achieve in the middle of the next decade, only to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, is wrong". In fact, the alliance had long ago set a goal that each member would devote at least 2 percent of GDP to defense in their own budgets.

"Defence spending also goes into United Nations peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against IS terrorism", von der Leyen said. In 2016, Germany's defense spending ratio stood at 1.18 percent. "What we want is a fair burden-sharing, and in order to achieve that we need a modern understanding of security", von der Leyen said. But US officials have publicly praised the alliance since Trump took office, and Merkel is among European leaders who have outlined steps to boost defense spending to the target level.

His comments came a day after his first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which he described as "great". That appeared to be far from the case on March 17, when the veteran German leader arrived hoping to reverse a chill in relations after Trump had said during his campaign previous year that her decision to allow refugees into Germany was a "catastrophic mistake" and suggested she was "ruining Germany".

The visit was a test of Trump's foreign policy vision as he welcomed a leader who not only represents Europe's biggest economy, but has emerged as the most visible advocate of the post-World War II worldwide order. The new USA president will come face-to-face with the veteran German leader whom he frequently maligned on the campaign trail, and whose free-trade, open-border politics stand in marked contrast to Trump's nationalistic rhetoric. The quote was translated into English from Der Spiegel's online German website. The visit on Friday began cordially, with the pair shaking hands at the entrance of the White House. But later, sitting side-by-side in the Oval Office, Merkel's suggestion of another handshake went unheard or ignored by Trump - an awkward moment in what are usually highly scripted occasions.

German media pointed to the incident as another marker of the meeting's general icy mood between the cautious German chancellor and impulsive USA president.

The U.S. president welcomed Merkel outside the White House West Wing and ushered her into the lobby to introduce her to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.