German-American relations, strained for months due to the war in Iraq, appear to be back on the road to normalcy following the visit of a massive business delegation to Washington led by German Economy Minister Clement.
Clement attended a "German-American Executive Summit" while in Washington.
Leading over a hundred top members of Germany’s business community on a two-day trip to the United States this week, German Economy Minister Wolfgang Clement said economic ties between the two countries remained on track despite recent political disagreements over Iraq.
“Overall I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen here,” Clement told journalists on Tuesday.
The main reason for Clement’s visit was a “German-American Executive Summit” initiated by Berlin’s ambassador to Washington. The event, which was over a year in the planning, brought together the bosses of leading companies such as Lufthansa, DaimlerChrysler, Siemens, General Electric, Wal-Mart and Citigroup.
Strong economic ties
With an annual trade volume of over $120 billion, many business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic are keen to see Berlin and Washington make amends and some are hoping the strong economic ties can help lead the way.
“We all have watched with much concern the political storm and tension between Germany and the USA,” Dieter Zetsche, the German chief executive of U.S. carmaker Chrysler, told DW-RADIO. “And since we have an absolute interest to help tear down this tension, we are pleased that this summit is a step in the right direction.”
Besides attending the executive summit, Clement also met a range of top U.S. officials including Treasury Secretary John Snow, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and, most importantly, Vice President Dick Cheney. Arranged on short notice, the meeting with Cheney marked the highest level of contact between Berlin and Washington since German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder angered U.S. President George Bush by opposing the U.S.-led war to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Clement’s trip to Washington comes roughly a week after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Schröder in Berlin on May 16. Powell’s bridge-building mission was, however, somewhat upstaged when Roland Koch, governor of the German state of Hesse and member of the conservative opposition, was received by both Cheney and Bush a day earlier in Washington.
Cheney (left) with Koch in a West Wing White House office on May 15, 2003.
That Cheney took time for Clement is being seen by some observers that the Bush administration is prepared to improve ties with Germany and that meeting with Koch was not meant as a snub to Schröder’s government.
Clement described his half-hour talk with Cheney as “extremely open and friendly” and said the two discussed an upcoming U.N. Security Council resolution on the postwar rebuilding of Iraq. Clement said German firms were prepared to help in the reconstruction. Some companies fear they may lose out on lucrative contracts due to Berlin’s opposition to the U.S. war effort.
Clement said he did not relay a personal message from Schröder to U.S. officials despite speaking with the chancellor shortly before meeting with Cheney.
“Whatever the president and the chancellor need to discuss they’ll do it themselves,” Clement said according to German public broadcaster ARD. “There are few things that need to be cleared up between our governments but that doesn’t touch the basis of our friendship.”