In what appeared to be a rare position for a U.S. president to be in during a joint news conference with a foreign head of government, President Barack Obama on Monday deferred to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on two hot-button issues of the day: military aid to Ukraine to resist Russian-backed separatists and the harsh anti-austerity stand of the new government in Greece.
Obama’s deference to Merkel comes as Germans are still obviously concerned with and upset over the sensational revelations last year of widespread National Security Agency eavesdropping by NSA renegade Edward Snowden.
"You hear about the NSA all the time and Germans still talk a lot about the 'breach of trust,' especially the monitoring of the chancellor’s private cellphone," one German correspondent, who requested anonymity, told Newsmax during the press conference at the White House.
"Watch — one of the first questions from the German side [of the press] will be about this."
It was — with the very first question to Merkel being whether the "breach of confidence" by the NSA played a role in her discussions with Obama that morning.
Amid mounting skepticism among congressional Republicans, and in Obama’s own official family, that Russian President Vladimir Putin is sincere about negotiations with the government of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the U.S. president made it firm he will hold off on providing weapons to Poroshenko and rely for now on the negotiations with Putin that are being pursued by Merkel.
"We continue to encourage a diplomatic resolution to this issue," Obama told reporters in the East Room of the White House. "And as diplomatic efforts continue this week, we are in absolute agreement that the 21st century cannot stand idle — have us stand idle and simply allow the borders of Europe to be redrawn at the barrel of a gun."
But while leaving the door open to future arming of Ukraine, Obama made it clear that at this time, "we continue to work for a diplomatic solution."
He said that he and Merkel "discussed the issue of how best to assist Ukraine as it defends itself, and we agreed that sanctions on Russia need to remain fully in force until Russia complies fully with its obligations."
"This vital partnership between Germany and the U.S. has always relied on the U.S. president making the tough calls," Mark Kennedy, a former Republican U.S. representative from Minnesota and now director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, told Newsmax. "The hesitancy by President Obama to make the difficult decisions has contributed to the deterioration of conditions within the Ukraine."
"My sense is that Obama is in search of every excuse possible to avoid arming the Ukrainians," said Ken Weinstein, president of the Hudson Institute, "Merkel gives him the cover he needs."
Obama let Merkel’s reply stand without an accompanying answer to a question about Greece and the efforts of its new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, to renegotiate the terms of its 240 billion euro bailout loan with the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission.
"On Wednesday, there’s going to be a Eurogroup meeting," Merkel told reporters. "And I think what counts is what Greece will put on the table at that Eurogroup meeting or perhaps a few days later.
"The German policy, ever since 2010, has been aimed at Greece staying a member of the Eurozone. I’ve said this time and again. The basic rules have always been the same."
On this issue, some observers such as George Washington University’s Kennedy were willing to cut Obama slack. As he told us, "It is appropriate for Obama to not seek to contradict Chancellor Merkel on Greece since only the Eurozone itself can make the tough calls for how to achieve fiscal harmony within their common currency."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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