Germany Denies Being Pressured on Obama

Sen. Barack Obama boards his campaign jet in Ohio. The presumptive Democratic nominee is planning a trip to Europe soon, though the dates have not been confirmed by his campaign.
Sen. Barack Obama boards his campaign jet in Ohio. The presumptive Democratic nominee is planning a trip to Europe soon, though the dates have not been confirmed by his campaign. (By Jae C. Hong -- Associated Press)
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By Craig Whitlock and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 12, 2008

BERLIN, July 11 -- The German government strongly denied Friday that it had been pressured by the Bush administration to discourage Sen. Barack Obama from giving an address in front of the landmark Brandenburg Gate during his upcoming European tour.

Obama's campaign has declined to confirm the dates of his trip, but politicians here continued to squabble over where, exactly, to lay out the red carpet for the presumptive Democratic nominee, who, in contrast to President Bush, is very popular with the German public.

Officials on both sides of the Atlantic were trying yesterday to tamp down allegations that the Bush administration sought to squelch Obama's speech in front of the gate, which has become a symbol of Berlin's division and reunification. Obama aides confirmed that the landmark was among the locations they had inquired about for an appearance.

The German tabloid Bild reported that Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert M. Kimmitt may have played the heavy when he told a group of German businessmen, "It would be nice if the German government would focus on strengthening its contacts to us rather than already beginning to look for our successors."

Brookly McLaughlin, a Treasury spokeswoman, said that Kimmitt's remarks were taken out of context and that he was merely saying he hoped the Merkel government remains engaged with the Bush administration as it reaches out to Bush's potential successor.

She added that Kimmitt, a former ambassador to Germany, made the comments last week when he was in Berlin for the opening of the new U.S. Embassy building, days before the issue of Obama's possibly speaking at the Brandenberg Gate came up.

Asked if any Bush administration officials had discussed the matter with their German counterparts, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "Not that we're aware of." He added: "Our position is that each candidate is going to have to make decisions on their own about their campaigns."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her displeasure with Obama's interest in giving a major speech on transatlantic relations at the site, the historic entrance to the heart of the city and the backdrop for President Ronald Reagan's famous address in 1987 in which he called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.

A spokesman for Merkel said this week that the chancellor had "little sympathy for the Brandenburg Gate being used for electioneering and has expressed her doubts about the idea."

Before the Bild report named Kimmitt, German newspapers said that during the Group of Eight summit in Tokyo this week, an unnamed Bush administration official asked Merkel's foreign policy adviser, Christoph Heusgen, to declare the Brandenburg Gate off limits. At a news conference, government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm called the reports "inaccurate in every way."

But he backpedaled when asked if Merkel still opposed the site being used for an American campaign event, saying the government hoped that "a consensual and good solution" would be achieved.

"The question of whether there will be a public appearance and, if so, what type, is for Senator Obama to decide," Wilhelm said.

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