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Germans debate reason behind Obama's truncated itinerary

The official program of US President Barack Obama's visit to Germany has been cut to just over half a day. US officials said this was due to security concerns, but some in Berlin suspect cooling relations are to blame.

Obama poses with Merkel

Obama met with Merkel just a few months ago

At a government news conference ahead of the US president's visit to Germany, ministerial spokespeople were inundated with questions about the program of the visit.

Why won't there be a meeting with ordinary citizens in the eastern German town of Dresden where Barack Obama begins his stay in this country? Why has the program for his visit to the cultural city of Weimar been drastically cut? Could it be that the relationship between the German chancellor and the US president has taken a dive in recent months?

"The relationship between the German chancellor and the US president is good and cordial," German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told reporters.

"It became even closer in early April through the two leaders' intensive and successful cooperation during the G20 summit, as well as at the NATO summit, where a new secretary-general was elected.

"But it's not just been business talks like these. Merkel and Obama have had a number of private conversations too which have led to this very friendly relationship, which ought to be a perfect basis for their joint work towards resolving important political issues."

US requests

Karsten Voigt, the government coordinator for German-US relations

Berlin's coordinator for US relations, Karsten Voigt, says everything's fine

The US administration expects Germany to grant a new home to a number of ethnic Uighurs as the Guantanamo detention camp closes down. But German state interior ministers and particularly those from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats are not in favor of this.

Also, the US president may again press for more German soldiers to be deployed to Afghanistan, and not just to the relatively stable northern part of the country. Again, no one in the German government has signaled yet that this wish might be fulfilled at some stage.

Carsten Voigt, the government coordinator for German-US relations, insists that differences in opinion do not necessarily have to lead to a cooling of relations, which he said were completely intact at present.

Nor does he believe that Barack Obama still bears a grudge against Angela Merkel for not having been allowed to address Berliners near the Brandenburg Gate last year while he was still on the campaign trail.

Domestic split

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Steinmeier will not be accompanying Merkel's team

According to some political observers, the official program for the president's visit actually highlights a rift between the German chancellor and her foreign minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier, who will not be among the team accompanying Angela Merkel.

"It is a rather short visit by Mr Obama, and it's correct that the German foreign minister is not taking part in it," foreign office spokesman Andreas Peschke said.

"The minister himself has made it clear in a number of recent interviews that he doesn't like people complaining about what and whom the US president will not see during his brief stay here.

"People should rather be happy about the fact that Mr Obama is visiting Germany for the second time within the short period of his presidency so far."

Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm hinted that if one were to ask both Merkel and Steinmeier about their stance on important foreign policy issues, there'd probably be two different answers – and that would probably not go down too well with the American guests.

"Foreign policy has to be consistent and must not be broken up into different pieces," Wilhelm says.

"By and large, we've been trying hard to convey a well-coordinated foreign policy approach to our friends abroad. So, the fact that the foreign minister will not be talking to the US president directly should not be interpreted as a rift between him and the chancellor."

Author: Hardy Graupner (sje)
Editor: Jennifer Abrahmsohn

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