New York Times: When Chancellor Angela Merkel plays host to President Bush on Tuesday and Wednesday, it will be well away from the bright lights of this capital.
The New York Times
By JUDY DEMPSEY and NICHOLAS KULISH
Published: June 10, 2008
BERLIN — When Chancellor Angela Merkel plays host to President Bush on Tuesday and Wednesday, it will be well away from the bright lights of this capital.
Closeted in the elegant Schloss Meseberg, the government’s guesthouse northwest of here, Mr. Bush will be doing no walking tours in Berlin and giving no major speeches. Instead, he will use the time to talk to Mrs. Merkel, one of his favorite leaders in Europe, about the Middle East, energy security and, above all, Iran’s nuclear program.
Some German diplomatic experts are playing down the importance of this visit, part of a weeklong European tour, saying that Mr. Bush is already a lame-duck leader and that the German news media and public are already looking past him, obsessed as they are with the American presidential election campaign.
But others say that there are issues to be discussed that cannot simply wait until next year and the inauguration of Mr. Bush’s successor.
“Everybody’s concentrating on the incoming president and not on the president in office, which I think is a mistake,” said Karsten D. Voigt, the coordinator of German-American cooperation in the Foreign Ministry. “Especially in the field of foreign and security policy, an American president is president until the last day.”
High on the security agenda is Iran, whose nuclear program increasingly worries the Europeans, the United States and, particularly, Israel. Germany and the United States are working with their closest allies, as well as with Russia and China, to try to hammer out a combination of sanctions and inducements that could convince the Iran to give up its program.
Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, said that on Iran, “the leaders will discuss how to step up our diplomatic efforts, both multilaterally and unilaterally, including imposing greater sanctions.” Mr. Hadley said they could “at the same time offer Iran an opportunity, if it is willing, to suspend, come to a negotiation, and enter into and accept the offer that has been tendered to it that would result in a lot of benefits for the people of Iran.”
Mr. Bush arrives in Europe not with a public list of demands, but a series of low-key appointments with leaders of the European Union, and the major allies Germany, France, Italy and Britain. Though Mr. Bush is still unpopular in Europe, relations have quietly improved after reaching a low point after the Iraq invasion.
In part, President Bush can thank Mrs. Merkel for helping to patch things up, but he also arrives here with a less aggressive, more multilateral approach.
Reginald Dale, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said there had not been much shift of the Europeans’ positions toward the Americans. But in his second term, “President Bush has moved toward the Europeans in a number of areas, largely unnoticed,” Mr. Dale said, citing the diplomatic track taken on Iran, the creation of a European security force and trade issues. “It’s quite a significant shift toward the European point of view.”
Foreign policy analysts credit Mrs. Merkel. The stormy relationship Mr. Bush had with her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, has been replaced with stability and has also been marked with honesty.
“By using her charm, she helped heal the rift between Berlin and Washington which had become so wide under Schröder,” said Alexander Skiba, a trans-Atlantic expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “At the same time, she has had no qualms in telling Bush that the Guantánamo detention camp should be closed. It demands real skill to balance criticism with friendship.”
Few European leaders had dared tell Mr. Bush what they thought about the camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. “He sees in Merkel someone who was brought up in Communist East Germany and who put great store on freedom and human rights,” said Karl-Heinz Kamp, director of research at the NATO Defense College in Rome. This partly explains why Mrs. Merkel was so warmly received on her six visits to the United States over the past two and a half years, in Washington and at Mr. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Tex.
There have been disappointments on both sides. Mrs. Merkel managed to get Mr. Bush to endorse her climate change program at last summer’s Group of 8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, which at the time was seen as a big success for a chancellor who has put global warming at the center of her foreign policy. But in practice, the Bush administration has rolled back on that commitment.
Mrs. Merkel could not always deliver for Mr. Bush, either. During the NATO summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, in April, Mr. Bush wanted to crown his legacy as the champion of a free and united Europe by setting Georgia and Ukraine on a path to membership in the alliance.
The German chancellor, supported by France and some other countries, blocked the move, saying neither country was ready. But she also brokered the compromise language about future aspirations for the countries, which eased the pain of rejection.
Mrs. Merkel, often constrained by her divided coalition government at home, also resisted pressure from Mr. Bush and NATO to send German troops to southern Afghanistan, where American, British, Canadian, Dutch and Danish forces are taking on the brunt of the fighting.
Despite that, the two leaders have kept talking and meeting, and the relationship appears solid. “The major players in both countries have a vested interest in maintaining and improving the relationship and making the trans-Atlantic bonds even closer,” Mr. Voigt said.
Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Washington.