Merkel to pressure US to close Guantanamo Bay

9th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

9 January 2006, BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to receive a warm welcome when she visits Washington this week with a senior White House official praising Sunday the closer ties that had developed between Berlin and the US since Germany's September election.

9 January 2006

BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to receive a warm welcome when she visits Washington this week with a senior White House official praising Sunday the closer ties that had developed between Berlin and the US since Germany's September election.

The relations between Washington and Berlin had "already become closer" following Merkel's election as German leader, Nicholas Burns, the US Deputy Secretary of State, said in an interview with the German daily Der Tagesspiegel.

However, during talks Friday with President George W. Bush, Merkel is expected to press for Washington to close America's controversial detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Following talks with leaders of her conservative Christian Democratic Union party Saturday, Merkel said she would raise the subject with Bush, adding: "We will attempt to find common ground."

The Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba was set up after the September 11 2001 attacks on the US and has been widely criticised by human rights groups for holding terror suspects without trial.

"An institution such as Guantanamo cannot and ought not to exist long term in this way. Means for a different treatment of the prisoners need to be found," she said in an earlier interview with the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel for publication on Monday.

Merkel's visit to Washington is her first since she took office in November and forms part of a series of visits she is making to Germany's key partners. Next week, Merkel is scheduled to travel to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The 51-year-old Merkel came to power promising a fresh start in ties with Washington after former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's opposition to the war in Iraq plunged Berlin's transatlantic relationship into a crisis. However, Merkel has consistently insisted that Germany will not send troops to Iraq.

Marking the build-up to Merkel's trip to Washington, Burns waved off tensions between Germany and the US caused by claims over secret CIA aircraft transporting terror suspects across Europe and allegations about U.S. intelligence officers abducting a German national and shipping him to Afghanistan.

Burns told Tagesspiegel that Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had discussed these issues in what he described as "a pragmatic and satisfactory way".

He went on to say that it would be only normal that the talks on these questions should continue.

Der Spiegel also reported that Berlin was pressing for the release from Guantanamo Bay of a young Turkish Islamist who grew up in Germany and went to Afghanistan to fight.

Spiegel said German diplomats in Ankara had contacted the Turkish government to discuss a joint approach towards Washington. The man, Murat Kurnaz, grew up in the port city of Bremen.

Ankara believes that Kurnaz might be released by March. Berlin's own requests for his release have been in vain because Kurnaz does not hold German citizenship, Spiegel said.

Germany's Interior Ministry does not want Kurnaz to return immediately for fear that he would will portray himself as a martyr and make inflammatory speeches in mosques, the magazine said.

In her Spiegel interview and ahead of her talks with Putin, Merkel also set out moves for taking a more critical approach to Moscow and as a result to step back from the strong personal ties between Schroeder and the Russian President.

"We can't ... transfer our idea of democracy" to Russia, Merkel told Spiegel.

Merkel's visit to both Moscow and Washington also comes in the wake of a major battle between Russia and Ukraine over the price of gas supplies, which led to temporary shortfalls in gas deliveries to the European Union.

The Moscow-Kiev gas war has raised concerns about Europe's dependency on Russian energy and as a result triggered a major debate in Europe about alterative energy sources.

About one third of Germany's gas supplies are from Russia.

"I don't think we share as many of the same values yet with Russia as we do with the United States," Merkel told Spiegel.

"But we have a huge interest in seeing Russia develop in a sensible way," she said.

DPA

Subject: German news

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