Bush to Meet Germany's Merkel

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New German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits President Bush Friday. The Bush administration welcomed her election and many analysts forecast a new era of improved U.S.-German relations. But tensions over U.S. conduct in the fight against terrorism are likely to continue.


Germany's Angela Merkel makes her first visit to the United States today since becoming chancellor. She'll meet with President Bush in an effort to improve German-US relations that had cooled because of Germany's opposition to the Iraq War. But the visit comes amid growing concern in Germany over the US is conducting the fight against terrorism. NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Berlin.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Both the United States and Germany have appeared eager to heal the rift caused by Germany's dissent over the Iraq War. In her election campaign, Angela Merkel promised to restore trans-Atlantic relations. But soon after she came into office, allegations of secret CIA prisons and illegal rendition flights in Europe put that relationship under stress. Speaking during a press conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Berlin last month, Chancellor Merkel was forced to distance herself from her new American friends.

Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL (Germany): (Through Translator) On the one hand, we are under certain obligations as members of the same alliance, and on the other hand, we are obliged to uphold our own laws. I believe we can do both. And if questions or problems occur, then, of course,we have to talk about them. But I intend to do so in an open, friendly manner and in a way that is based on partnership.

MARTIN: Chancellor Merkel will try to improve that partnership when she meets with President Bush on Friday. But she has made recent comments calling for the closure of the US base in Guantanamo Bay, and is expected to raise those concerns with the president. Germany's ambassador to the US, Wolfgang Ishinger, says it's important that the two leaders remember they approach the issue from different perspectives.

Ambassador WOLFGANG ISHINGER (German Ambassador to the US): The United States likes to define itself as a country being at war. We in Europe do not tend to define ourselves as being at war. We are fighting terrorism with the means available to democratic governments. And that is a debate that we need to have.

MARTIN: Angela Merkel says she'll uphold the decision of the previous government to keep German troops out of Iraq, but there have been reports that she may offer to boost Germany's training program for Iraqi security forces. That makes some Germans nervous. Web site manager Lars Reinzeil(ph) flips through the newspapers in a Berlin coffee shop. He says he's not sure how Merkel can warm ties with the US and criticize it at the same time.

Mr. LARS REINZEIL (Web Site Manager): (Through Translator) Everybody in Germany was happy that we didn't support the war back then. And now there's this feeling: How can she improve the relationship with President Bush without making any concessions and giving him something we don't want at all?

MARTIN: But even vocal critics of recent American foreign policy say it's time for Germany and the US to move on. Claudia Roth is the head of the opposition Green Party.

Ms. CLAUDIA ROTH (Green Party): I think between friends, it's important that differences in politics are outspoken. And I'm convinced that this war was a big mistake, but this does not change or destroy friendship between Germany or the Germans and the Americans.

MARTIN: It's a friendship that Rolf Besta(ph), a journalist with Der Spiegel magazine, says could benefit from Merkel's own personal history. Because she comes from East Germany, Besta says she is not tied down by the West Germans' ambivalence about their own history with the United States.

Mr. ROLF BESTA (Der Spiegel): They accepted it thoroughly and felt that they were the junior partner who had to behave as the Americans expected or, quite the opposite, the urge to show the strong father America that one is grown up, and America--Angela Merkel is much more relaxed when it comes to dealing with the United States.

MARTIN: Merkel says she does not want concerns over the Iraq War and terrorism to dominate her visit with President Bush. She also plans to discuss Turkey's possible membership in the European Union, the Lebanese peace process and the latest developments in the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. Rachel Martin, NPR News, Berlin.

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