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A new chapter in U.S.-German relations

Most newspapers believe that Chancellor Merkel's warm welcome in Washington D.C. will not lead to a "new transatlantic romance," but to improved, business-like relations based on more hard-headed practicality and reliability. The U.S.-German realtionship is expected to be less tainted by populist abuse of political disagreements.
The chancellor and the president disagreed on Guantanamo, but agreed on a common approach towards Iran. President Bush did not mention the military option, but stressed UN Security Council negotiations. Chancellor Merkel said that as many countries as possible should be persuaded to ally themselves with the US and Germany and not be intimidated by Iran.

On her inaugural visit to Washington D.C. Chancellor Merkel first had breakfast with members of Congress and a 45 minutes one-on-one meeting with President Bush, followed by a joint press conference and lunch. The International Herald Tribune reports:
In what President George W. Bush said was a "spirited" but respectful one-on-one Oval Office session on Friday, the new German chancellor, Angela Merkel, challenged U.S. treatment of terror suspects but lent strong support to joint diplomatic efforts to defuse the nuclear standoff with Iran. Almost formally declaring an end to the tensions that divided the two allies over the Iraq war, Merkel pronounced the opening of a "new chapter" in U.S.-German relations. Bush appeared to agree.  Merkel, in her first White House visit since she took office on Nov. 22, said she had raised the question of detainee treatment at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with the president. But she appeared to do so in a carefully nonconfrontational way, saying that Europeans critical of such treatment needed to suggest reasonable alternatives for dealing with lawless terrorists. (...) Bush said that Merkel had raised the Guantánamo issue with him, and he again defended it as a necessary way to seek information from terror suspects. (...)  The White House appears particularly reassured by her free-market inclinations and the fact that, having grown up in East Germany, she has an inherent skepticism about Russia stronger than that of the former chancellor, Gerhard Schröder.
On Guantanamo, Chancellor Merkel told the press conference: "We openly addressed that there sometimes have been differences of opinion, and I mentioned Guantanamo in this respect." President Bush responded "Guantanamo is a necessary part of protecting the American people and so long as the war on terror goes on... we will inevitably need to hold people that would do ourselves harm." According to the BBC, Ms Merkel said that she had been encouraged by talks with the US president and there was much more to the US-German relationship than their differing opinions on how to respond to the threat of terrorism. She said it was going to be "essential for us not to only talk at governmental level... but our societies need to be engaged". We agree and believe that the Fulbright program, the Atlantic Review and many US and German blogs promote this dialog between our societies.

The NYT praised Chancellor Merkel's statements on Guantanamo:
What infuriated the Bush administration about Mr. Schroeder was that he opportunistically used America-bashing to win votes even as he was cozying up to President Vladimir Putin and trying to lift the European Union's arms embargo against China. Mrs. Merkel has not done that. If she feels strongly about the disgrace of Guantánamo, as all honest people should, she also feels strongly about the importance of trans-Atlantic relations.

COX news service reports about Iran:
President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday urged the United Nations to take a firm line in dealing with Iranian officials who have defied international concern over Iran's nuclear program. After an Oval Office one-on-one session, Bush and Merkel said their nations are in lockstep concerning Iran, something that was not true about Iraq. "We will certainly not be intimidated by a country such as Iran," said Merkel, on her first White House visit since taking office in November. Bush said, "It's logical that a country which has rejected diplomatic efforts," led by Germany, France and Great Britain, should be referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
The liberal Guardian lets the AP news service opine about a special Bush-Merkel relationship:
Merkel's apparent willingness to work with Bush on trying to stop Iran's nuclear program, as well as in other areas, could be the start of a special closeness. Granted, both Bush and Merkel alluded to their private 45-minute White House meeting Friday as having its "candid'' moments, a diplomatic reference to differences of view. But there was far more harmony evident than discord. (... ) The budding ties between Bush and Merkel may be magnified by the known distaste Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, and Bush had for each other, particularly over the Iraq war. It got to the point that Bush refused to telephone Schroeder with congratulations on winning the chancellorship in 2002 and even would not take a call a week later when Schroeder tried to get in touch.

The White House provides the transcript and video of President Bush's and Chancellor Merkel's press conference.

Many Americans criticize the Merkel government for the alleged ransom payment to Susanne Osthoff's kidnappers and for the recent release of Mohammad Ali Hammadi from a German jail, who killed a Navy officer during Hezbollah hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985.

Deutsche Welle opined about Chancellor Merkel's Guantanamo comments and her recent meeting with Secretary Rice in Berlin:
She is the first European head of government to issue clear demands on specific issues, be it the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo, the abduction of suspects or the establishing of secret CIA prisons. Specific criticism rather than blanket condemnation is something even George Bush can deal with -- especially since Merkel always combines her remarks with a commitment to German-American friendship.
Die Tagesschau opines that the Bush administration understands the need for partners, and Chancellor Merkel offered support without tendering (What's the polite version of "without sucking up"?):
Washington ist darauf angewiesen, Partner zu finden, die bei der Problemlösung behilflich sind: Vom Iran über den Irak bis nach Afghanistan. Angela Merkel hat sich angeboten, ohne sich anzudienen - das ist klug und im Interesse Deutschlands.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Zeit have more commentary in German. The latter's beginning is not so promising, but it gets more interesting.


Flex Blue on : Growing pains of a new partnership

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On The Atlantic Review, "Jorg" covers the White House visit by newly-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel. He finds reason for optimism in a piece entitled "A New Chapter in U.S.-German Relations." The chancellor and the president disagreed on Guantanamo, but agreed on a common approach towards Iran. President Bush did not mention the military option, but stressed UN Security Council negotiations. Chancellor Merkel said that as many countries as possible should be persuaded to ally themselves with the US and Germany and not be intimidated by Iran I am inclined to agree with this sentiment, which "Jorg" quotes from Deutsche Welle:


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ROA on :

First, let me say that I am delighted to see the improvement in US/German relations. I was also glad to see that Merkel said it was necessary for critics of Guantanamo to come up with reasonable alternatives. Unfortunately she did not seem to offer any. But to be sympathetic to her about this issue, it really requires a multinational group to develop guidelines that can be used by all nations in dealing with people who do not fit into existing international law. I am also pleased with her position on Iran. It is amazing what a few strategically placed medium range missiles can do to ones perspective.

David on :

ROA - Here are some "reasonable alternatives" to the current situation at Guantanamo: 1) Permit immediate access by the International Red Cross (ICRC) to all detainees, including "ghost detainees" and the 81 who are attempting to end their lives through starvation. 2) Permit reasonable access by the detainee's US and International legal. counsel 3) Release immediately those detainees (such as Murat Kurnaz) who have been found innocent of any terrorist connections by a US judge. 4)Cease all abuse and torture of the detainees (see eyewitness FBI reports of routine instances). 5) Pursuant to Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention each detainee should have the right to a hearing before a competent tribunal, A competent tribunal could weigh, amongother things, the merits of defendants’ claims that they are not combatants at all. Individuals designated as combatants may be in some cases only people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, or victims of parties (such as bounty hunters) improperlymotivated by personal, ethnic, or political rivalries unrelated to the conflict between the US and al Qaeda or the Taliban. The term "enemy combatant" is an artificial construct defined at the whim of the President and has no legal standing in US or international courts of law. Worse, by calling these detainees "terrorists", we feel we have the moral right to treat them inhumanely and we violate the universal principles of human dignity enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

ROA on :

David: Access by ICRC to all detainees – I agree. The following link points to an article originally appearing in the German paper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that describes current conditions in Guantanamo. Access by counsel - Not sure to what extent I agree to anything in addition to what is described in the article. If anyone who wants to is entitled to be treated the same as a POW, what is to prevent people like Tookie Williams to claim to be acting as an enemy combatant as opposed to a common criminal? There should be definite consequences to acting outside the current rules of war. Release innocent detainees – see article. Cease abuse of detainees - see article. Lets put this in context. A German police official was willing to authorize torture to find a single child who had been kidnapped. Right after 9-11 interrogators were concerned about preventing another attack and deeply upset about attack. As tome goes on there are fewer and fewer reasons for abuse. All incidents should be investigated and prosecuted when appropriate. Competent tribunal – see article. If you don’t want to call them enemy combatants, what do you want to call them?

Tom P on :

Nothing bring estranged friends back together again than a nuclear-armed nut. Anticipating eventual military action against Iran by the US in the near future, how do you think the German public will react? What is German media's take on this pending crisis? I've notice that the US media is not dealing with this issue with any enthusiasm. At least not yet.

clarsonimus on :

I would worry more about the end of camaraderie between Germany and Russia. This may now turn into an all-out love affair!

Kuch on :

Nice post Jorg I think the main thing in Merkel's favor is that she does not seem insistent upon poking America in the eye with a sharp stick at every opportunity. We certainly understand the European view of Gitmo, and have no problem with thoughtful discourse. I also agree with your "The U.S.-German realtionship is expected to be less tainted by populist abuse of political disagreements." I would also add that the fervor being whipped up in Germany about Merkel bringing up Gitmo seems telling to me. I don't see a similar situation here about the Hammadi release. I watched the press conference on C-SPAN and noted that mostly, the German Media were intent on finding out if Merkel discussed the "Gitmo situation" with President Bush. No American journalist pressed Bush to see if Bush addressed the release of a terrorist. Does this have the effect of stirring up populist abuse of Political disagreements?

Jorg W on :

Kuch, "No American journalist pressed Bush to see if Bush addressed the release of a terrorist." No German journalist asked about Murat Kurnaz either. I am not sure, but perhaps you could compare the German media coverage of the "fervor" concerning Murat Kurnaz with the US media's coverage of Hammadi...? In my humble opinion, Germany should have extradited Hammadi to the US. After four years in Gitmo, it is in my humble opinion, time that Murat Kurnaz is charged with a crime and then given a proper trial: [url][/url] What do you think? By the way: Check out the new trackback from Flexblue. See above. Flexblue comments on the Hammadi case and says, he would hate it to see Germany become "the new France". And see the new comment from *David* in response to *ROA* on top of this page: [url][/url] In the threaded comments layout, the latest comments are not at the bottom of the page, but directly after the comment that is commented upon. Sounds complicated, but isn't. Ach, well, I know you find the latest comments. We appreciate all of them. Please, excuse us for not responding to each comment. We reflect on all of them.

Kuch on :

In general terms with the situation with Murat Kurnaz, I agree that more information from the US government would be helpful. What are the suspicions of our government? Most of us don't really know. I think I read though that the German government has indicated that he will not be allowed back to Germany, and would be deported to Turkey if he were released. Maybe the Germans also know more about this situation than they are advertising. Is this true? Perhaps it has been overturned in the German courts... Why do you think Germany did not extradite Hammadi to the US? I know there is a general hesitance to do so due to the Capital Punishment issue, but why just release the guy "under the cover of darkness?"

Martin on :

Most likely, Murat Kuranz can return to Germany. Some say the German government is concerned that his detention Gitmo radicalized him. I would not be surprised. Four years at Gitmo would have a negative effect on each and every one of us as well. Some government officials think the Muslim fundamentlists in Germany will use him as a poster boy and martyrer.

joe on :

It does seem one of the traits of the current leadership in Berlin is the release or the desire to release terrorists. I am not sure where this falls under the concept of common or shared values? An option not often discussed is to declare those at Gitmo, EPW’s and keep them there till the war is officially over.

At the Zoo on :

I pass over the usual false accusations from people who either don't know that lying is wrong anymore or have wide-open minds to anything juicy they hear from character assassins -- no matter how absurd or often disproved. We don't take that seriously. Instead, I would like to point out that sincere criticism IS respected = considered. And Merkell's seems sincere. Actions speak louder than words, however. So, we'll just have to wait and wait and see. Kathy K

Shah Alexander on :

I failed to trackback again. I show the link to my post. Excerpt: …. I have to admit that this viewpoint was too optimistic. It has become apparent that America and Europe disagree with each other about the balance of counter terrorism and human rights. To understand this perception gap, I would suggest …… “Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order.” ….. I shall appreciate your attention to this link.

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