Tensions over Libya, economy to shadow Merkel US visit

6th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was flying to Washington Monday for talks with US President Barack Obama, with tensions over Libya, Middle East policy and the economy casting a shadow over the visit.

Merkel will accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom during her three-day stop in the US capital and enjoy a lavish White House banquet, joined by her reclusive chemist husband Joachim Sauer and several cabinet members.

But German media noted that behind the pomp would be lingering strain over Berlin's decision in March to abstain in the UN Security Council vote authorising military action to protect civilians in Libya.

Germany, which has a non-permanent seat on the council, was the only European Union or NATO member to withhold its support.

Obama told Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel that he would now like to see Germany do more to help the international effort in Libya.

"I look forward to discussing with the chancellor how we can enhance our work together to more effectively address the changes underway in the region, including in Libya," he said, in an interview published Monday.

The G8 world powers, including the United States and Germany, threw their weight behind the Arab Spring last month, intensifying the pressure on Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi and pledging billions for fledgling democracies.

But Defence Secretary Robert Gates reportedly told his German counterpart Thomas de Maiziere during a visit to Washington in April that Berlin had damaged its international reputation with the Libya decision.

"You should know that," Gates said, German news weekly Der Spiegel wrote in its Monday issue.

Merkel, for her part, has publicly differed with Obama on his declaration last September that he hoped to see a Palestinian state within a year as part of a Middle East peace deal.

Berlin saw the move as raising false hopes while alienating Israel and Merkel has said repeatedly that Germany would not recognise a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood.

Differences also remain on the economy, with Merkel pressing for austerity among debt-wracked eurozone members as well as greater fiscal discipline in the United States. Obama has been wary to choke off a nascent recovery.

The conservative Merkel, the first woman and the first person from communist East Germany to lead Europe's biggest economy, enjoyed a warm rapport with Obama's predecessor George W. Bush, sharing a barbecue at his Texas ranch and a wild boar roast in her electoral district on the Baltic coast.

But a senior aide at the chancellery in Berlin dismissed speculation about a personal rift with Obama despite their cooler demeanor.

"Obama delves into the issues and Merkel appreciates that she can speak with him intensively on topics such as climate change," the aide said.

US and German officials also stress that Merkel is only the second German to receive the Medal of Freedom -- the highest US civilian honour -- and the first European leader under Obama.

"The official visit will celebrate the strong and enduring US and German alliance," White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said.

He said the talks would cover Libya and Afghanistan, democratic transitions in Egypt and Tunisia, Middle East peace, Iran's disputed nuclear programme and the global economic recovery.

German officials added to the list the succession at the International Monetary Fund, the eurozone crisis, energy policy following Berlin's decision to scrap nuclear power by 2022 and long dormant plans for a Transatlantic Economic Council.

© 2011 AFP

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