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[BERLIN] The inner circle of US President Donald Trump has little knowledge about the European Union and Germany is having to explain how the world's biggest trading bloc does business, the German government's transatlantic coordinator said on Thursday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the go-to European ally for former US President Barack Obama, who praised her as "an outstanding partner" on a farewell visit to Berlin in November, but the relationship has deteriorated markedly under Mr Trump.
Speaking after talks with senior officials at the White House in Washington, Juergen Hardt told Der Tagesspiegel daily that the new US administration seemed to be aiming for bilateral trade agreements with single EU member states.
"We first have to make clear that trade issues are not a national matter, but that they fall into the competence of the EU," Mr Hardt said, adding that German officials had still a lot to explain to their new American counterparts.
"My impression is that the knowledge about the way the EU works is not very pronounced - at least not in Trump's inner circle," he noted.
Earlier, the US news magazine World Trade Online reported that several EU member states had rebuffed requests from the Trump administration to negotiate bilateral deals.
Mr Hardt added, however, that the new US administration showed great interest in dialogue with Germany, pointing out that the planned US delegation for the Munich Security Conference on Feb 17-19 would be bigger than in the past.
"That's a good sign," Mr Hardt said.
The transatlantic coordinator urged all EU member states to speak with one voice and act in concert on major policy issues.
"This should also help to increase the acceptance of the EU in Washington," Mr Hardt said.
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel is expected to meet his newly appointed US counterpart Rex Tillerson for talks in Washington later on Thursday.
Ahead of his flight to Washington, Mr Gabriel said on Wednesday that he wanted to shore up ties with Germany's closest ally outside Europe, days after a key Trump aide launched fresh attacks on Berlin's policies.
Mr Gabriel said he looked forward to a "good, open and friendly" dialogue with and said Germany was seeking answers about the new US administration's foreign policies, its relationship with the Nato alliance and other key issues.
British Prime Minister Theresa May's embrace of Mr Trump has been galling for Britain's closest European Union allies, who fear London is tilting too heavily towards the new US administration ahead of Brexit.