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Merkel and Bush coordinate Iran policy

On her second trip to Washington within four months, Chancellor Merkel described a nuclear Iran as unacceptable according to the White House transcript of the press conference with President Bush:
We've addressed a number of issues here today of regional concern, chief among them is Iran, where we are in total agreement, saying that under no circumstances must Iran be allowed to come into possession of a nuclear weapon. We are in agreement, also, that a diplomatic solution needs to be found, and we do see good chances for bringing this about. But we also think that it is essential, in this context, that the clear resolve of the international community is shown by standing united, by showing cohesion on this matter.
While the U.S. wants to see economic sanctions as soon as possible, Merkel emphasizes a gradual process aimed at getting Russia's and China's support:
If one wants to see this conclude to a diplomatic success, to actually do this on a step-by-step basis. Quite often, attempts have been made to rush matters, and to actually pre-empt what should be at the end of the process and to take the next -- the other next step before the next one. And I really do think that on this one in order to pursue this diplomatic process successfully we need to pursue this on a step-by-step basis. It's happening now.
The last remark refers to the U.N. Security Council resolution introduced by Britain and France that "would be legally binding and set the stage for sanctions against Iran if the nation does not abandon uranium enrichment." President Bush refused to answers the press' questions on his plans for sanctions. Russia and China have so far opposed sanctions. Merkel, however, met with Russian President Putin last week and will travel to China on May 21. Andrew Kamons, one of the editors of Foreign Policy, praises Germany's leadership and points out:
Germany has a lot of leverage in this process. Since Merkel took office, Germany has made strengthening ties with the U.S. a priority, and it has earned the trust of the current administration on the issue of Iran.  As a part of the EU-3 pressure against Iran nuclear proliferation and a strong opponent of the Iraq war, Germany has credibility as a firm negotiator on Iran without being tainted by too close an association with the United States. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it enjoys some of the closest economic ties with Iran, and support for punitive measures lets Iran know that economics won't trump security concerns.
Chancellor Merkel avoided to answer the question whether she wants the United States to talk directly with Iran on this issue. Foreign Minister Steinmeier and the chairman of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee called for direct U.S.-Iranian talks to overcome their bilateral problems.

President Bush mentioned the topics of his conversation with Chancellor Merkel:
Obviously, we spent a lot of time on Iran. After all, we're close allies in trying to make sure that the Iranians do not develop a nuclear weapon. We talked about the WTO round, the Doha round for the WTO, and I appreciated the Chancellor's willingness to work with not only the Europeans, but with a country like Brazil, and others, to see if we can't bring this round to a favorable conclusion. This evening I'm going to talk to the Chancellor about Sudan, and the progress that's being made in Iraq.
President Bush will attend the annual U.S.-EU Summit in Vienna, Austria, on June 21, 2006 and meet with Merkel in Germany as part of a trip to the G8 summit in Russia. Before returning to Germany, Chancellor Merkel will meet leaders of U.S. industry and finance in New York and speak at the 100th anniversary gala of the American Jewish Committee in Washington DC.

EU plans to increase joint defense spending and to secure elections in Congo

The EU observer reports that the "EU defence ministers have given the green light to create a common defence research and technology (R&T) fund, aimed at narrowing the gap between the US and Europe in high-tech military equipment." They asked the European Defence Agency to prepare detailed proposals for their meeting in May on a joint programme of investment in R&T, and funding arrangements to support it. The European Defence Agency (EDA) has been created in 2004 to
help EU Member States develop their defence capabilities for crisis-management operations under the European Security and Defence Policy. The Agency will achieve its goals by encouraging EU governments to spend defence budgets on meeting tomorrow’s challenges, not yesterday’s threats; and by helping them to identify common needs and promoting collaboration to provide common solutions.
The EDA is headed by EU foreign policy chief and Fulbright alumnus Javier Solana, who said about the defense ministers' meeting:
Everybody accepts that Europe has to raise its game on defence as a whole and on pursuing the new technologies which will give us the capabilities we need in the future and strengthen our industries and research institutions. (...) Today’s discussions have helped to establish a framework for identifying the most important objectives and the right funding mechanisms to ensure that we spend more, spend more together and spend more effectively in this crucial area.
Most observers are sceptical concerning EU deliberations to secure the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo in June. There is strong pressure on Germany to lead this EU peacekeeping mission.  Many German experts question the wisdom of such a mission and Germany's capabilities to commit sufficient troops.
UPI's Chief European Correspondent analyses the EU discussions concerning a Congo mission:
The European Union is anxious to become a major player on the world stage. Haunted by it failure to stop bloodletting in the Balkans in the 1990s and taunts that it is an "economic giant but a political and military pygmy" -- in former NATO chief George Robertson's memorable phrase -- it has started to project power more muscularly in recent years. But the inability of EU defense ministers to rustle together enough troops to monitor elections in the Congo Tuesday shows how far the bloc has to go to convert its lofty goals into reality. (...) Expressing solidarity with Africa and unqualified backing for the United Nations in international forums is one thing. Asking European governments to risk their soldiers' lives to back these ideals appears to be another.

Isolationism on the rise

John B. Judis, a senior editor at The New Republic and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes about the growth of isolationist sentiment:

Since 1964, polls--first Gallup, then Pew--have been asking Americans whether the "United States should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own." An affirmative answer is a good indication of isolationist sentiment and hostility to both liberal internationalism and neoconservatism. In 1964, for instance, Gallup found only 18 percent of Americans agreed, while 70 percent disagreed, with this statement. The number began to rise soon afterwards; by June 1995, with the end of Cold War and the Republican capture of Congress, it had risen to 41 percent.
In September 2001, as Americans learned the hard way of our connection to the rest of the world, the number fell to 30 percent. Americans once more saw themselves as having global responsibilities. But according to the current Pew poll, it has now risen to an all-time high of 42 percent. That represents a sharp shift, and according to the Pew numbers, most of it took place in the last year, as Americans have become thoroughly disillusioned with the Iraq war. As might be expected, the public is also increasingly hostile to international institutions. Since 2002 the percentage of Americans believing that the United States "should cooperate fully with the United Nations" has fallen from 67 to 54 percent, and the proportion wanting the United States to go its "own way in international matters ... whether countries agree or not" has risen from 25 to 32 percent.

Perhaps harsh criticism from abroad contributes to these isolationist sentiments as well.  Large parts of the world are either concerned about US interventions or about US isolationism, it seems. The article points out that President Chirac was complaining in 1995 that the post of world leader was "vacant." As always, finding the right balance is the key to everything.

US-German conflict over UN reform

"Berlin and Washington are bound to collide head on in the coming weeks and months over reforming the United Nations Security Council", writes “Handelsblatt” feature writer Christoph Nesshoever for the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies’ publication “Advisor.”

While Germany is keen on a permanent seat, the US prefers

a leaner, more effective organization, one more inclined to support U.S. policies around the globe instead of opposing them, a sort of legitimizing tool for “coalitions of the willing.” (...) Privately, administration officials fear that the fifteen-member Council could face not just occasional but permanent gridlock with some twenty-four members. Seen from inside the beltway, the current gridlock between the fifteen over how to stop the genocide in Sudan is a troubling repeat of past tragic moments of the Council’s inertia.

Nesshoever concludes:

A good course for Germany may be to convince the Bush administration that it is ready to play an active role in world politics – by finally beginning to build up credible capabilities for the projection of military force around the globe. After all, a Security Council seat brings with it enlarged responsibilities that have to be met. A good course for the United States may be to rid itself of its distrust towards the Germans engendered solely by their disagreement with America on the issues of Iraq.


President Bush nominates undiplomatic hardliner as ambassador to the UN

“Some have said that sending you to the U.N. would be like sending Nixon to China. I'm afraid it would be more like sending a bull into a china shop," said Senator Joe Biden to John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Jon Stewart's Daily Show sums up the arguments against John Bolton. Short video footage from the Senate hearings.


John Bolton “would be far from the first US envoy to the UN to have the word "controversial" often cited in front of his name,“ writes the Christian Science Monitor. The UN Security Council is “one of the few international forums where we are one of many. We feel we need a distinctive, pointed voice there," remarks Thomas Carothers from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the same article.