Obama, Germany's Merkel Find Much to Discuss; Climate Change Among Topics

Visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Obama discussed global warming, Afghanistan and Iran.
Visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Obama discussed global warming, Afghanistan and Iran. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 27, 2009

President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the chaotic situation in Iran, climate change, the world economic crisis and the war in Afghanistan during an Oval Office meeting and lunch, the two told reporters yesterday.

The president intensified his criticism of Iran's crackdown on protesters challenging the June 12 election in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the landslide victor. Obama brushed aside Ahmadinejad's demand that he apologize for "interfering" in Iranian affairs with his escalating criticism and praised Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi as "a representative of many of those people who are on the streets and who have displayed extraordinary bravery and extraordinary courage."

The comments on Iran dominated the White House news conference, overshadowing other issues he and Merkel explored, including climate change, which happened to be the focus of lawmakers at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday.

With the House of Representatives debating an energy bill that Obama described as historic, Merkel -- whose country has been a leader in pursuing renewable energy sources -- said there "is indeed a sea change" in the U.S. government's approach to the issue.

"This points to the fact that the United States is very serious on climate," she told reporters.

(After an afternoon of vigorous debate, the House narrowly passed the bill last night, 219 to 212.)

In addition, Obama and Merkel responded to a question about the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and discussed the possibility of Germany accepting some detainees as the United States moves to close the prison.

"We are going to be looking for the help of our friends and our allies as we execute that process, one that's going to be admittedly difficult politically," Obama said.

"And we have seen a positive response from countries across Europe in the general sense of wanting to help. . . . And I think that Chancellor Merkel, she has an obligation obviously to make sure that Germany's national security interests come first in these considerations."

Speaking through a translator, Merkel said that the discussions are in the early stages and that "we are not going to shirk that particular responsibility, but it needs to be brought in line, as the president says, with the legal situation we have in Germany. We are showing a constructive spirit, and we will come to a result. I'm confident of that."

Merkel's White House visit marked the third time the two leaders had met since Obama took office in January. The two clashed over the economy during a summit in London, when Germany resisted calls from the United States to increase government spending to stimulate the German economy.

Obama advisers later said the United States had never demanded a specific stimulus action from German or other European countries. And in the end, Merkel joined Obama and the other leaders in pledging to do "whatever is necessary" to rejuvenate the economy.

But Merkel's public comments contributed to reports in German media that her relationship with Obama is cool -- a notion Obama seemed intent on dispelling.

"I like Chancellor Merkel a lot," Obama said as she looked on with a faint smile. "I've now dealt with a lot of world leaders, and I think that Chancellor Merkel is smart, practical, and I trust her when she says something. And so that kind of approach is exactly what you want from an international partner."

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