The CDU's Wolfgang Schäuble went to the US to lay out the basis of his party's foreign policy in the case of a conservative election victory and got a welcome surprise -- 45 minutes with the man himself, President Bush.
Surprise meeting "a good sign" for US-German relations
Citing her need to be on home territory during the short campaigning period before September's general election, Christian Democratic leader Angela Merkel sent her foreign policy expert, Wolfgang Schäuble, to represent her in Washington.
Originally, Schäuble was scheduled to meet solely with US national security adviser Stephen Hadley. But, in a sign that Washington is interested in improving US-German relations should the conservatives sweep September's election as many predict, Schäuble got the red carpet treatment -- an unscheduled 45-minute meeting with President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Speaking at a press conference in Hamburg on his return, Schäuble described the atmosphere at the meeting as "very direct." The president is "a man with whom you can speak very openly," Schäuble said.
"I am pleased to have been received by such high-ranking people," he said. "This shows that the US government is interested in good relations with Germany."
President Bush met Angela Merkel on a recent visit to Mainz.
In a jab at Chancellor Schröder's government, Schäuble said that a future CDU government would not sacrifice good transatlantic relations to improve those with other European countries.
"It is not a question of building a counterweight to America. German foreign policy has to find a way back to a traditional balance between good relations with the US and France."
Under Schröder's leadership, relations with the US soured when Germany and France sided together in opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Summing up his discussion with the president, Schäuble said he'd made it clear that a future conservative government wouldn't do everything differently from the SPD-Green coalition, nor could the US expect that Germany would always share its opinion. What he could promise, he said, was that the conservatives would reintroduce a "climate of trust" between Washington and Berlin.
White House officials were reluctant to qualify the unscheduled meeting as the beginning of a new US-German alliance.
"We are moving forward since our difficulties of the past and will continue to do so regardless of who wins the German elections," a spokesman said.
Iran, Turkey on agenda
Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan address the media in Ankara, Turkey on Monday 16 February 2004. Turkey's prime minister on Monday rejected outright a proposition from German opposition leader Angela Merkel that Turkey should make do with a "privileged partnership" with the European Union rather than full membership.
Aside from the state of US-German relations, other topics on the table included Iran's nuclear program. Schäuble said the president assured the Europeans of continued support from the US in their negotiations with Tehran.
There was a difference of opinion on Turkey's prospective membership in the EU, however, as Schäuble made clear that Merkel's party remains opposed to full membership, preferring instead to pursue a "privileged partnership" -- something that is "not quite the position of Washington." The US has said it would like to see Turkey become a member of the EU.
Fortunately for Schäuble, the issue of Iraq did not arise. Merkel has already said she does not intend to deploy German soldiers there if she is elected.