1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

First Name Basis

DPA news agency (nda)February 4, 2009

Frank and Hillary were all smiles when the German foreign minister met the new US secretary of state. Steinmeier and Clinton were both optimistic on US-German ties but admitted future friction may not be that far away.

Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton shakes hands with German Foreign Affairs Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier
When Frank met Hillary: Old friends and now counterparts in the international arenaImage: AP

They already call each other by their first names.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, looking forward to a warmer era of diplomatic relations with the United States under President Barack Obama, called the new top US diplomat "Madame Secretary Hillary" or simply, "Hillary," a sign of friendship for Germans, who often call each other by their last names even after decades.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reciprocated by calling her German colleague "Frank." Indeed, the pair have known each other since the 1990s, when she was US first lady and Steinmeier was chief of staff to the previous German chancellor.

Clinton on Tuesday held her first meetings with foreign officials, welcoming British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and later Steinmeier. She praised relationships with the close European allies as they discussed a broad range of international issues.

Clinton, wife of former president Bill Clinton, called Germany one of the closest US partners and noted the "special relationship" with Britain, and the foreign ministers responded in kind.

Steinmeier called for a new "trans-Atlantic agenda" with Obama's administration, after disagreements with former president George W Bush over Iraq and other issues, from climate change to Guantanamo to the International Criminal Court.

"Much will be simpler, different and better" in Berlin's relations with Washington, the German diplomat said before Tuesday's meeting.

German leaders taking different stance in election year

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, right, welcomes U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prior to bilateral talks at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin on Tuesday June 23, 2008.
Condi and Steini were also on good personal termsImage: AP

Steinmeier had already been on good personal terms with Clinton's predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, calling her "Condi," but Steinmeier has made no secret that he was looking forward to working with not only a new president but a new secretary of state.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a close Bush ally, has been less forthcoming with her praise and will travel next month to Washington for talks with Obama.

Steinmeier has pledged to work together with the United States on issues such as the closure of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay or climate change, and even said he will travel later this month to Iraq. A sticking point could come on Afghanistan, where Berlin has placed sharp restrictions on how German troops can be used in the NATO mission.

"As President Obama has made quite clear, we need our closest allies, like Germany, to help us ensure the success and stability of the Afghanistan nation at this very important moment," Clinton said after the meeting.

Steinmeier earlier said the relationship does not centre simply on the question of whether the German military will send more troops to Afghanistan. Clinton did not publicly discuss the matter in more detail, except to say that the US would address it further after envoy Richard Holbrooke travels to Afghanistan next week.

British FM speaks of resilient special relationship

Miliband, who was at the State Department two hours before Steinmeier, was the first foreign minister Clinton has met with since she was confirmed last month.

"It is often said the United States and Britain have enjoyed a special relationship. It is certainly special in my mind and one that has proven very productive," Clinton said. "Whoever is in the White House, whichever party in our country, this relationship really stands the test of time."

Both Europeans said they recognize Obama's commitment to work with US allies.

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband
Miliband wanted to confirm Britain's role as main US allyImage: AP

"Your commitment to sharing the burdens and the responsibilities of international leadership and cooperation is something that strikes a very strong chord with us and a commitment that we want to follow through," Miliband said.

He discussed a range of issues with Clinton including the global financial crisis, the Middle East peace process, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism, Iran's nuclear program, as well as poverty and climate change. Clinton thanked Britain for its military involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Miliband said the talks were "focused on results" and designed to "refresh" the special relationship between the two longtime allies.

Clinton's topics with Steinmeier included the global financial crisis, Iran's nuclear program, the conflict in the Middle East, climate change and disarmament.

Steinmeier also met with national security advisor James Jones, while Miliband had talks with Obama's Mideast special envoy George Mitchell.

But the honeymoon won't last forever.

"It seems to me that we evaluate this chance properly without naive euphoria. There will naturally be sources of friction. It can't be a honeymoon everyday," Steinmeier told reporters.