Snowden Snafu Aside, Merkel Is Key US Ally on Ukraine

Image: Snowden Snafu Aside, Merkel Is Key US Ally on Ukraine

Tuesday, 06 May 2014 03:33 PM

By John Gizzi

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As much as U.S.-German relations were jolted by Edward Snowden's revelations of NSA eavesdropping on Angela Merkel's private cellphone, the German chancellor and President Barack Obama made it clear the alliance between their countries is solid — at least when it comes to Ukraine.

As he did with Francois Hollande during the French president's visit to the White House last month, Obama made it clear at a joint news conference with Merkel Friday afternoon that their partnership was strong as both leaders and friends.

"One of our strongest allies," is how the president referred to Germany, adding that the woman he referred to several times as "Angela" was "one of my closest friends on the world stage."

But both leaders made it clear that Ukraine was the major issue bringing them together months after the National Security Agency was outed by Snowden for its massive domestic cellphone surveillance program, as well as monitoring the calls of U.S. allies.

"I think the priority really is on the current issue of Ukraine and that looms very large on our agenda," Merkel told reporters in the White House Rose Garden. "It showed how important the transatlantic partnership is also in today's times."

Despite strong opposition from the German business community and the three living former chancellors, Merkel is on the same page with Obama, pushing for tougher sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

In addition, Newsmax learned that the chancellor sent a trusted political friend to Washington two days before her visit to discuss a proposed joint energy effort with the United States and the European Union.

Norbert Roettgen, Merkel's environment minister from 2009-2012, met with several U.S. business leaders and other friends of Germany on Wednesday about a future energy union between the United States and the EU.

Roettgen was considered a possible successor to Merkel until he unsuccessfully led their Christian Democratic Union party in state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia two years ago. Following his defeat, he left the Cabinet and resigned his position as state party leader, but remains close to Merkel.

Obama confirmed that EU-U.S. energy cooperation was on the table during his meetings with Merkel. As he told reporters Friday: "We discussed energy security, including the importance of Europe diversifying its energy sources. The United States has already approved licenses for natural gas exports, which will increase global supply and benefit partners like Europe."

Both Obama and Merkel appeared to draw a new "red line" regarding Moscow's interference in Ukraine. Having said previously that Russian military interference in Ukraine would lead to more severe sanctions, both leaders said Friday that Russian interference in Ukraine's presidential elections May 25 would trigger their harsher economic response.

"The 25th of May is not all that far away," Merkel said. "Should [the presidential election] not be possible to stabilize the situation, further sanctions will be unavoidable."

"As Angela Merkel said," Obama agreed, "if, in fact, we see the disruptions and the destabilization continuing so severely that it impedes elections on May 25, we will not have a choice but to move forward with additional, more severe sanctions."

The last of four questions that reporters were permitted to pose to the two world leaders was about Snowden and the revelations of NSA phone eavesdropping, which led an angry Merkel to say at the time, "friends should not be spying on friends."

Merkel suggested closer contact on the surveillance issue between parliaments as well as heads of state — although there are already numerous interparliamentary meetings including between the German Bundestag and the U.S. Congress.

Obama mentioned NSA reforms his administration is pursuing, and reiterated "that ordinary Germans are not subject to continual surveillance, are not subject to a whole range of bulk data gathering."

Referring again to his friendship with Merkel, Obama said "it has pained me to see the degree to which the Snowden disclosures have created strains in the relationship."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.


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