By charging that Germany is in thrall to Moscow, Mr. Trump appeared to be attempting to deflect criticism that he is too accommodating toward President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who he meets on Monday in Helsinki, Finland, suggested Derek Chollet, a former assistant secretary of defense who is now with the German Marshall Fund in Washington.
“This is like throwing a match on kindling, since Germany was anticipating something like this after the Group of 7” meeting in Canada, where Mr. Trump was similarly mocking, but in private, Mr. Chollet said. “Trump went out of his way in his first meeting to send this unprovoked attack.”
Mr. Trump and Ms. Merkel talked later in a bilateral meeting that lasted an hour, and appeared to go out their way to be cordial, even though it is widely known that they have a strained relationship.
Ms. Merkel, fact-based and unemotional, was a strong ally of President Barack Obama, which is a source of friction with Mr. Trump. German officials say that when the two leaders speak on the phone, Mr. Trump harangues her at the start about military spending and the trade surplus almost before the usual pleasantries and the main substance of the call.
“We have a very, very good relationship with the chancellor, we have a tremendous relationship with Germany,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re having a great meeting. We’re discussing military expenditure, we’re talking about trade.” Noting Germany’s “tremendous success,” Mr. Trump added: “And I believe that our trade will increase and lots of other things will increase, but we’ll see what happens.”
Asked if the pipeline issue had come up, Mr. Trump said that it had. For her part, Ms. Merkel was nonconfrontational. “I am pleased to have this opportunity to be here for this exchange of views,” she said, which extended to economics, migrations and “the future of our trade relations.” She concluded: “We are partners, we are good partners, and wish to continue to cooperate in the future.”
Mr. Trump had been advertising his intention to read the Riot Act to NATO allies about military spending, calling Americans “the schmucks that are paying for the whole thing” and vowing last week: “I’m going to tell NATO — you got to start paying your bills. The United States is not going to take care of everything.”