Angela Merkel to Washington Next Week

The well-respected German opinion newspaper Die Zeit is now reporting that a spokesman for German Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel has announced that she is planning to visit President Obama in Washington on Thursday and Friday next week (25-26 June). The main items on the agenda are said to be coordinated preparation for the upcoming G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy (8-10 July) and the Mideast peace process – oh, and yes, what is happening in Iran, as well.

Merkel actually was supposed to make this trip back at the very beginning of April, in order to do some coordinated preparation with Obama for that G20 summit in London that you might have heard about back then; they video-conferenced instead. Then, during that brief trip to Europe that Obama made at the beginning of this month – after the speech directed to the Muslim world that he delivered in Cairo – his foray through Germany included not Berlin proper, but just Dresden and Weimar (for visiting the Nazi concentration camp near-by there, Buchenwald), as if he had no reason and/or interest to confer with Merkel. All this has fed speculation in Germany that personal relations between the two heads-of-government are not as warm as might be desired, and indeed the Die Zeit article does carefully parse hints from the statements both made during their joint news-conference in Dresden. (E.g. Obama termed his host-city “very beautiful” – ah! a good sign!) The verdict: the Obama-Merkel relationship “is slowly warming up – even if it now not (yet) reached the stage of intimate friendship.”

It should neither come as any surprise that there is further speculation in the French press that the Obama-Nicolas Sarkozy relationship is not that great either, that Obama even intended in some way to “snub” Sarkozy during that latest European trip when he went to Normandy for the D-Day anniversary celebrations. I’ll spare you any further discussion of that here, other than to remark that that perhaps makes a bit more sense, since it has long been clear that Sarkozy has a high-strung personality which is easier for anyone to dislike.

No Uighurs to Deutschland!

Back to German-American matters, though, and the Die Zeit article does note that the main current issue raising that relationship’s temperature is that of former inmates from Guantánamo Bay, of which the US wants Germany to accept some for resettlement, a request to which Germany has yet to accede. In fact, it states that the US Government previously requested that Germany take the nine Uighurs (those poor souls originally from Western China, who were cleared by US authorities as completely innocent years ago), but the German Interior Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble refused; so the US re-submitted a request that a mere two be accepted, which nonetheless probably is fated to find just as frosty a response.

The sad thing is that this dispute is entirely unnecessary: the Uighurs don’t belong in Germany and probably would not want to go there even if they were permitted to. This we can clearly see from the recent excellent New York Times photo-series about the four who were recently admitted to settle in Bermuda: look, they’re eating ice cream there, for Heaven’s sake, they’re swimming at the beach! OK, yes, Germany also has excellent ice cream (although hardly the same quality of beaches). The serious point here, though, is that Germany has a clear record of hostility to incoming immigrants, particularly to those of non-Western appearance and/or religious beliefs, a record which consists of a steady, general cultural unfriendliness against such outsiders, but which is highlighted by infamous night-time attacks-by-fire by skinheads that occurred in the 1990s against shelters housing foreign asylum-seekers. Other European countries do make plausible targets for such US Government requests, but not Germany, so that whatever negative influence this needless controversy is having on German-American relations is just regrettable.

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