Opinion: Merkel Knows How to be Friendly but Firm | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 04.05.2006
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Opinion: Merkel Knows How to be Friendly but Firm

Germany's chancellor has headed to the US for the second time in four months, proving that German-American ties are warmer than they've been for years. DW's Daniel Scheschkewitz says all the credit goes to Angela Merkel.


The personal affinity is unmistakeable

After years of frosty trans-Atlantic relations during Gerhard Schröder's chancellorship, the rapport between George W. Bush and Angela Merkel marks what for many is a welcome thaw.

When the German leader first visited in January, Bush described Merkel as "charming, intelligent and freedom-loving." This time, he praised her clear thinking and straight-talking -- while for her part, Merkel said she felt they had developed "an amicable partnership."

US n eeds Germa n y

Schröder Bush Treffen in Mainz

Not fooling anyone

All this mutual appreciation comes as a stark contrast to the hostility dished out to her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. And clearly, it is based on more than just personal affinity. Most significantly, it reflects a broader acknowledgement of the fact that Germany, as Europe's largest economy, is as important to the US as the US is to Germany.

Another subtext to German-US ties is Washington's awareness that it may have bitten off more than it can chew in Iraq, and now realizes that if it wants a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, it needs help from Germany -- as well as India, China and Russia. A "Coalition of the Willing" is no longer an option, and in this respect, the German Chancellor won't have so much difficulty persuading Washington to travel the diplomatic route as Schröder once did.

Not a mediator

What also makes Merkel an attractive ally to the US president is her healthy friendship with Russia -- although Merkel has stressed that she is unwilling to play the role of mediator.

The chancellor did, however, declare she would do her best to break the deadlock in the stalled world trade talks at the EU-Latin America summit in Vienna on May 12 -- a move that would be in US interests given that Bush enjoys little popularity within the ranks of South America's populist left-wing leaders.

Quietly co n fide n t

Angela Merkel bei George Bush in Washington

Fun in the Oval Office

For all the bonhomie of Merkel's visit to Washington, the German leader consistently came across as quietly confident. She might like George W. Bush, but she doesn't kowtow to him. She knows that Germany can hold its head high on the international stage, that the world listens to what it has to say, and that even the White House has come to value its approach to solving conflicts within multilateral organizations.

The fact that Bush has a certain amount of personal respect for Merkel is one more advantage, and has certainly helped iron out the many differences in German-US relations which emerged in recent years.

The extent of the chancellor's growing international clout will be demonstrated most effectively when she becomes the first German chancellor to address the annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee during its 100th anniversary celebrations on Thursday.

Germany is slowly but surely banishing its demons, and Angela Merkel is doing her bit to make that happen.

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