United States Secretary of State John Kerry wants to step in personally to smooth out trans-Atlantic relations that have deteriorated as a result of the NSA spying scandal. A government spokesman confirmed that Kerry will visit Berlin during a trip to Germany on Friday.
Kerry is a scheduled speaker at the prestigious Munich Security Conference this weekend, but he plans to meet with his counterpart, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on Friday. A meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also planned. Kerry is also expected to hold a press conference and answer questions from journalists.
Nevertheless, German diplomats are already warning against high expectations for the meeting. Already the way in which the visit has been planned suggests that the US government isn't giving the secretary of state's Germany visit its highest priority. American officials didn't alert their German counterparts of the details of when they could expect Kerry in Berlin until Wednesday.
Diplomats say they aren't expecting the secretary of state to provide any formal apology for spying by the NSA. Instead, the trip will address more general working issues. Hopes for a formal no-spy agreement between Germany and the United States have also largely vanished.
Kerry has been planning a visit to Germany for some time now, but he first wanted to wait until the new government had been formed in Berlin. Following the exposure of NSA spying on Germany and Europe, Kerry had called for a "trans-Atlantic Renaissance." Kerry, who spent his youth in Berlin as the son of US diplomats, is considered to have a good affinity to Europe.
During her first formal government address in parliament on Wednesday, Merkel once again addressed surveillance by the NSA and criticized the US. "An approach in which the end justifies the means and in which anything that is technologically possible is also used violates trust and sows distrust," Merkel said of the US intelligence service's vast surveillance measures.
"In the end, you have less, not more, security," Merkel said. She said that views in the US and Germany over the affair "diverge widely".
In addition to discussion of the NSA scandal, the controversial trans-Atlantic free trade agreement could be a central focus of talks between the US secretary of state and Steinmeier and Merkel, but also the current situation in Ukraine and Syria.
American officials have also noted with interest that Germany's new defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, spoke out in an interview with SPIEGEL this week in favor of strengthening the country's international engagement. "From a purely humanitarian perspective, we can't look away when murder and rape are taking place daily," the politician said, with a view of a possible expansion of Germany's military deployments in Africa.
But Kerry's trip also coincides with a phase of new tensions in German-American relations. This week, members of the Bundestag, the federal parliament, want to submit a petition for the creation of a special committee to investigate the NSA affair. The spying scandal is also expected to be one of the most important issues addressed at the Munich Security Conference, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.