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Germany's Merkel Presses US Lawmakers for Climate Change Action

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel was afforded a rare honor Tuesday as she addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.  In her speech to U.S. lawmakers she pressed for an agreement at next month's climate change summit in Copenhagen, reiterated her country's commitment to Afghanistan and warned of the dangers of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Ms. Merkel is the first German chancellor to address the U.S. Congress in five decades - and the first ever to do so in a joint meeting.

The address comes days before the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a theme featured throughout her 30 minute speech.

The German leader, who met earlier in the day with President Barack Obama, spoke of many pressing global challenges, including Afghanistan, where she noted that Germany has the third largest troop contingent.  

She said the objective in Afghanistan must be to transfer responsibility to the Afghan government.  She said Germany, which has had troops in the country since 2002, stands ready to shoulder its responsibility.

The international community's mission in Afghanistan is without any doubt a tough one," Ms. Merkel said. "It demands a lot from all of us and it now needs to be transferred to the next phase as soon as the new Afghan government is in office.

Her comments come as President Obama is reviewing his war strategy in Afghanistan and considering sending thousands of more troops there.  

Ms. Merkel also warned of the threat to Israel and the free world if Iran were to have a nuclear weapon.  Germany is part of international efforts to halt Iran's controversial nuclear activities.

"A nuclear bomb in the hands of an Iranian president who denies the Holocaust, threatens Israel and denies Israel the right to exist is not acceptable," Ms. Merkel said.  

On climate change, the German leader called for an agreement at December's climate change summit in Copenhagen on one point:  that global warming cannot exceed two degrees Celsius. 

"To achieve this, we need the readiness of all countries to accept internationally binding obligations," Ms. Merkel said. "We cannot afford missing the objectives in climate protections that signs tell [s] us have to be met."

The chancellor also paid tribute to American efforts to help East Germans in the once divided Germany.  She said she and the German people will never forget the support from Americans before the fall of the Berlin wall on November 9, 1989 and in the years that followed.

Ms. Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, said the wall, its barbed wire and the order for the guards to shoot those trying to escape to the West limited her access to the free world.  She never imagined a day when she would even travel to the United States, let alone stand before the U.S. Congress.

The last German leader to address the U.S. Congress was in 1957, when Chancellor Konrad Adenauer spoke in separate speeches to the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

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