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June 06, 2011

Obama, Merkel Discuss Libya, Economy, Mideast Peace

by Dan Robinson

Welcoming German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House, President Barack Obama has hailed the strength of the U.S.-German partnership.

On a sunny, hot morning the South Lawn was filled with military honor guards and a fife and drum corps, as the two leaders stood during a 19-gun salute for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

President Barack Obama called Germany one of America's strongest allies, and Ms. Merkel - who grew up in what was communist East Germany - one of his closest global partners.

"At a time when some have asked whether the rise of new global powers means the decline of others, this visit reaffirms an enduring truth," said Obama.  "Our alliances with nations like Germany are more important than ever.  Indeed, they are indispensable to global security and prosperity."

Obama, the first African-American U.S. president, said he and Merkel, the first woman to be chancellor of Germany, are also symbols of change.

"Madame Chancellor, the arc of our lives speaks to this spirit," added Obama.  "It is obvious that neither of us looks exactly like the leaders who preceded us.  But the fact that we can stand here today as President of the United States and as Chancellor of a united Germany is a testament to the progress, the freedom, that is possible in our world."

Obama said that as two of the largest and most dynamic economies, Germany and the United States can show that prosperity is "best achieved by investing in their greatest resource, their people, and ability to compete and innovate in the 21st century."

Both leaders pointed to cooperation in Afghanistan, where Germany has about 7,000 troops, the third-largest contingent after the U.S. and Britain.

Chancellor Merkel, in translated remarks, reiterated determination to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and spoke about popular uprisings in North Africa.

"Germany and the United States are partners, sharing responsibility for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan," said Merkel.  "We are pulling in the same direction, trying to keep Iran from following its course of developing a nuclear forces capability.  In North Africa, we support the struggle for freedom.  And in the Middle East, we support efforts to fill the peace process with new life."

In a joint news conference, both leaders were asked about bilateral differences on the NATO-led military operation in Libya.

Each predicted that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi must and will step down.  Obama discussed the role he expects Germany to play as events move forward.

"There is going to be a lot of work to do when Gadhafi does step down, in terms of getting the Libyan people back on their feet, economic, political work that is going to have to be done, and my expectation is going to be that there will be full and robust German support, as there has been in the past, on a wide range of issues," said Obama.

Asked whether Germany felt NATO was mistaken in becoming militarily involved in Libya, Chancellor Merkel said Germany's position should be seen in its support for the international "stance" there, and remains committed to the objectives of the mission.

"It is our joint will that this NATO mission is successful," added Merkel.  "This is important for the people in Libya, but it is also important for NATO for the alliance at large and here we have one heart of an ally that beats with the heart of the other allies."

President Obama said U.S. economic growth depends on a "sensible" solution to Europe's financial problems.  He said Greece will require a combination of private investment, structural reforms and greater transparency, with help from Eurozone countries.

"We think it would be disastrous for us to see an uncontrolled spiral and default in Europe because that could trigger a whole range of other events, and I think Angela shares that view," said Obama.

Whether the warm reception for Chancellor Merkel, including the presentation of the Medal of Freedom to her by President Obama, helps smooth some of the tensions in the U.S-German relationship, over global economic and other issues, remains to be seen.

Chancellor Merkel said that despite what she called some differences of opinion, the partnership rests on "a very broad basis."  She invited President Obama to visit Berlin and the president said he looks forward to that, provided he wins another term as president.