Bush to Meet German Chancellor This Week

The Associated Press
Monday, July 10, 2006; 4:06 PM

WASHINGTON -- There are still disagreements over such issues as global warming, the death penalty and the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, but it is still hard to remember a time when U.S.-German relations were on a sounder footing.

And the good feelings will be on display Thursday when, while en route to the G-8 summit in Russia, President Bush will be the guest of Chancellor Angela Merkel, head of Germany's Christian Democrats, on a visit to her home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in the former East Germany.

With Prime Minister Tony Blair reduced to lame duck status in Britain and Silvio Berlusconi knocked from power in Italy, Merkel increasingly has emerged as the leader on the continent that Washington most counts on.

"She has been the single most pleasant surprise on the European scene in a long time," says John Hulsman, European affairs expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

When it comes to pro-U.S. leaders in Europe, he said, "Angela Merkel finds herself the only game in town."

That may be something of an exaggeration, given the close ties Bush enjoys with some other European leaders, including cycling buddy Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark, whom Bush hosted at Camp David a month ago.

But among leaders of the larger European countries, Merkel seems to have a clear edge. Brookings Institution associate Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a one-time aide to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, credits Merkel with defusing Iraq as a sore point in U.S.-German relations.

"She's not fanning those flames the way Gerhard Schroeder used to," says Sonnenfeldt, referring to the previous chancellor.

Merkel was born in Hamburg during the Cold War year of 1954 and later moved to East Germany with her family. As a teen, she showed her disenchantment with her country's communist system by hiding out in school lavatories to listen to radio broadcasts of West German political speeches.

Anti-war activists in Germany are gearing up to protest Bush's visit, much as they did during his two previous trips to the country. One of Bush's stops will be the northern coastal city of Stralsund, where the local chapter of Germany's Social Democratic party has proclaimed that the president is not welcome.

According to the White House, Bush's visit to Germany "will underscore our two nations' commitment to advancing freedom and prosperity and to strengthening the trans-Atlantic partnership."

Merkel attaches great importance to nurturing the NATO alliance, a position that the administration welcomes. It also appreciates the German commitment of 2,500 troops to Afghanistan and of security forces to other distant hotspots.

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