Amid deeply strained ties between Washington and Berlin, Emily Haber, Germany's new US ambassador, has her work cut out for herself. But former US officials who know her say she is exactly the right woman for the job.
Washington's foreign policy establishment need not worry.
Emily Haber's US counterpart immediately aggravated lawmakers and diplomats in his new host country with various tweets and interviews since staring his post recently as President Donald Trump's point man in Germany. Berlin's new ambassador to the US prefers a different style, according to former US officials who have worked with her.
First, Haber, who will be Germany's first female envoy to Washington when she officially starts her post later this month, is not known to tweet. But second, and more importantly, she is a trained diplomat and not a member of the Trump administration, said Julianne Smith, who served as US Vice President Joe Biden's deputy national security adviser and the Pentagon's top European policy official during the Obama administration.
"I would never expect Emily to start her tenure here in Washington in the same style — in fact I would expect quite the opposite," said Smith, who got to know Haber through various meetings in which both participated during their respective tenures.
"I think she is really dynamic, I think she is pragmatic, she is easy to deal with and she is somebody who has not just a high IQ, but also a high EQ — meaning emotional intelligence," added Smith, now the director of the trans-Atlantic security program at the Center for a New American Security. "I have admired her over the years."
Haber is a seasoned official who has held very senior positions within the German government for the past decade. Most recently she served for four years as deputy minister in the interior ministry, where she dealt with counterterrorism and law enforcement issues, but also the refugees and the Snowden spying revelations — all thorny topics that required close cooperation and sometimes disagreement with Washington.
Read more: US-German conflicts — what you need to know
Haber, who earlier in her career was posted in Russia and Turkey, also served for several years as deputy minister in the foreign ministry, where she played a key role representing Germany in the negotiations that lead to the Iran nuclear accord — another thorny topic that necessitated working closely with Washington.
Taken together, said Jeffrey Rathke, a former state department official who worked with her while heading the US embassy in Berlin's political section, "that gives her a breadth of experience that goes beyond the political and economic issues that are important in the German-American relationship." That's because, he added, Haber is also keenly familiar with important issues like law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation.
"She is somebody with a very firm grasp of her portfolio and a very effective interlocutor and quite impressive," said Rathke, now the deputy director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Europe Program.
During their remarks about Haber, Rathke and Smith were keen to emphasize that her predecessor, Peter Wittig, who will become ambassador to Britain, had done a excellent job representing Germany in the US.
While Germany's new ambassador in Washington is an experienced public official, she is also someone that can adjust her behavior to new situations and circumstances, according to the former US officials. That will help her as she faces the difficult task of representing a country that has increasingly come in the crosshairs of the Trump administration on key issues such as trade, defense and immigration.
"I have seen Emily in meetings where she has adapted to her audience or a group that is less familiar with the subject," said Smith. "She changes the way she engages and the way she operates and I think this is very important right now."
Read more: Opinion: Time to scrap the G7
Adapting to Trump's style, which, "doesn't follow normal protocol and doesn't operate the way past administrations have," is essential to remain engaged amid a political climate that has become even more contentious than it already was before the last presidential election, added Smith.
Similarities with Merkel
Another asset of Haber, who both former officials described as a strong trans-Atlanticist, is her reputed close connection to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "We all and she will benefit from being close to the chancellor and that will increase her effectiveness and the way people treat her in this city," said Smith.
In fact, Rathke, detected certain similarities between the chancellor and the ambassador when the two worked together. "She is somebody who reminds me in a way a little bit of the chancellor. She is even-keeled and has a deep grasp of the issues she is dealing with and addresses them in a quite factual and analytical way."
All of it — her experience, her style and her closeness to the chancellor will open many doors for her in Washington, predicted the former officials.
Additionally, noted Smith, while Haber will work far away from Germany in Washington, her high-profile posting here will also send a message back to Europe: "I have also been impressed with her because she is a woman and frankly I find women at her level to be in short supply — particularly on the other side of the Atlantic, although we have issues on our side as well."