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Merkel in the US

Interview: Nick AmiesNovember 9, 2007

Reginald Dale from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington spoke to DW-WORLD.DE about German Chancellor Angela Merkel's two-day visit to the US this weekend, which begins Friday, Nov. 9.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, looks at President Bush as they hold a joint press conference in 2006
Bush will ask Merkel for Germany's support which the chancellor cannot giveImage: AP

Reginald Dale is a trans-Atlantic relations expert and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

DW-WORLD.DE: What does the United States expect in terms of support and action from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Germany on topics such as Iran, Afghanistan and the Middle East?

Reginald Dale: Germany is seen as less supportive than France on Iraq and Iran, but the Bush administration is pleased that Merkel agreed with the US that the time was ripe to launch a new Middle East initiative -- even if it is unlikely to get very far. The US wants Germany to support tougher sanctions on Iran and Merkel has made all the right noises to suggest that Bush will get what he wants. How far that support goes, time will tell.

German International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) vehicles patrol along Kabul-Jalalabad road
The US wants German troops in action in AfghanistanImage: dpa - Report

There is considerable concern in Washington over the way some NATO countries, particularly Germany, are not pulling their weight in Afghanistan, which is seen as a make-or-break test for NATO. If NATO fails in Afghanistan at least partly because German forces and others have failed to assume their share of the responsibility for the fighting through "caveats" -- restrictive rules of engagement and absence from the battlefield -- Washington is much less likely in future to look to NATO for joint operations and will resume its strategy of forming "coalitions of the willing," something which Germany doesn't like. Washington wants Germany and other countries to get involved in the dirty work of fighting the Taliban. This is very unlikely to happen, something Merkel will again reiterate.

Although German politicians tend to think it was a major achievement to extend the stay of German forces in Afghanistan, given the hostility of German public opinion, this is not the way Germany's commitment to Afghanistan is seen in Washington, where it is regarded as feeble and nit-picking.

What is the US view of Chancellor Merkel?

A screenshot from the YouTube video of Bush's massage on Merkel
The tactile Bush has a very different approach from Merkel'sImage: YouTube

In America, the incident most remembered in the recent history of German-American relations is probably the moment at the St. Petersburg G8 summit when Bush gave Merkel a surprise, high-speed backrub. A video of the incident was widely circulated, to general merriment. Merkel was clearly horrified by the physical contact, just as she dislikes Sarkozy's constant hugging and kissing.

Bush and Merkel express respect for each other, but their temperaments are completely different. Merkel likes quiet diplomacy, compromise and consensus -- Bush is driven by conviction and a sense of mission, which makes him much less likely to accept compromise easily.

Bush sees it as helpful that Merkel is less pro-Russian and less anti-American than her predecessor Gerhard Schröder, whom Bush detested, and he is pleased that she is more inclined than Schröder to understand the threats posed by international terrorism.

Is the working relationship between President Bush and Chancellor Merkel a balanced one?

George Bush and Angela Merkel at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm in June
Merkel claimed victory at the G8, but Bush was the winner, Dale saidImage: AP

I would not say that it is balanced, although Chancellor Merkel would probably say it is. It seems that Merkel, like many others, underestimates Bush. At the G8 Heiligendamm summit, Merkel claimed a diplomatic triumph in bringing Bush on board on climate change, without apparently realizing that Bush had run rings round her. Bush got virtually everything he wanted in Heiligendamm.

In exchange for agreeing to some vague global goal of reducing emissions, Bush won on the following points: the goal would not be mandatory; actions to try to counter climate change should not prevent strong economic growth; technology is a large part of the answer; and big emerging nations like China and India must be included in any post-Kyoto agreement.

Bush, in fact, drove a stake through the heart of the whole Kyoto approach right under Merkel's nose -- and she didn't seem to notice.