German Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticized the United States for some of its tactics in the fight against terrorism and called for the Guantanamo Bay detention center to be closed in an interview published Saturday.
Chancellor Merkel wants to rebuild ties with the US but will not shy away from thorny issues
Just days before she is due to visit the United States for the first time since becoming German chancellor, Angela Merkel has come out with heavy criticism of US tactics in the fight against terrorism, specifically calling for the US to close its Guantanamo Bay prison camp and find other ways of dealing with terror suspects.
Merkel, in an interview the weekly magazine Der Spiegel published on Saturday, said: "An institution like Guantanamo can and should not exist in the longer term. Different ways and means must be found for dealing with these prisoners."
The tone of her comments shows that while she has maintained that repairing the damaged transatlantic relationship is a priority of her foreign affairs agenda, the chancellor will not be shying away from speaking out on issues where disagreement exists.
Repairing damaged a relations a priority but not at any cost
Relations between Germany and the United States reached a post-war unprecedented low during the chancellorship of Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schröder who adopted a strong anti-war stance on the issue of Iraq to win the 2002 general election. Consequent battles of will over the US-led invasion dragged the two countries into an acrimonious spat which lasted for most of Schröder's prematurely ended second term.
Merkel's comments also reflect a widespread skepticism in Germany about the way the US is fighting its "war on terror." Recent scandals centered on the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" strategy -- which had particular resonance in Germany due to the abduction and detention of German citizen Khaled el Masri -- and alleged secret prisons in Europe have injected further unease.
There has also been a long-standing opposition in Germany to the use of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba from human rights activists and many figures in the German government.
Friendship to be accentuated with US but not Russia
The chancellor, who will meet with George W. Bush on Friday, said that she intends to talk to president about the fight against terrorism. "But I want to accentuate that our relationship with the US will not be reduced to talking about fighting terrorism and the Iraq war," she added. She also referred to the relationship between the two countries as a friendship.
The same courtesy was not afforded to Russia however. Merkel, calling Germany's relationship with Moscow a "strategic partnership", said that Germany's relationship with Russia was not as strong as that with the US. "I don't think we share as many of the same values yet with Russia as we do with the United States," she said. "But we have a huge interest in seeing Russia develop in a sensible way."
While the opposition leader, Merkel often criticized the then-Chancellor Schröder for forging "exclusive" ties with Russia at the expense of relations with smaller EU countries.
Chancellor to address concerns on Russia development to Putin
Merkel will meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow days after her Washington trip and will hope to discuss her concerns over issues such as the new law giving the Kremlin more control over non-governmental organizations and the recent row between Ukraine and Russia over gas prices.
The short but hard-hitting "gas war" made Germans question their own heavy reliance on Russia for gas, she said. "We need to do everything to save as much energy as possible and diversify our sources," she said, adding that Germany would avoid letting Russia be its only supplier.
The European Union, which imports a quarter of its gas from Russia, was hit after Russian gas monopoly Gazprom cut deliveries to Ukraine on Jan. 1 to push its demand for a fourfold price rise. The two neighbors reached a compromise 5-year supply deal earlier this week.
Germany to push EU constitution when bloc president in 2007
Turning her attention to the EU, Merkel said that the contentious issue of the bloc's ailing constitution plans would be tackled head on by the German EU presidency in 2007, though much groundwork was needed in the time between.
"We need to have an all-encompassing discussion again," Merkel said. "I think it would be good if Europe stayed with the thought of having a constitution. I will lobby for that."