The goal of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's weekend visit to Texas was clear. Sure there were a number of international hotspots to discuss with her host, US President George W. Bush. But first and foremost, the visit to his Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas was to be enjoyable, relaxing, even a little fun.
As long as you weren't a journalist, that's largely the way it turned out. While the press were forced to tromp through overgrown brush and thread their way delicately past prickly cacti to reach the press conference, Bush gave his German guest, Chancellor Angela Merkel, a leisurely tour of his property under the gentle fall sun.
Even the work at hand was not to spoil the perfect Texas autumn. Having spent recent weeks making clear that the US was considering all options in dealing with Iran's nuclear program, Bush struck a decidedly softer chord with Merkel this weekend. He used the word "diplomacy" over and over, and he even declined to answer a question about what happens if negotiations fail, saying it was "hypothetical."
Merkel, for her part, was playing the ally role to perfection. While she expressed her conviction that the problem could be solved through talks, she also committed Germany, verbally at least, to strengthening sanctions should Iran not show any willingness to bend by Dec. 15. She also said she would do her best to limit German trade with Iran.
The two even seemed to be on the same page regarding Afghanistan. It is no secret that the US is unimpressed by Germany's unwillingness to send soldiers to the country's more dangerous south, preferring to concentrate on uncontroversial reconstruction problems in the north. But Bush merely praised the German involvement, saying "I do want to thank the German people for their strong support of this young democracy. And I appreciate the German troops who are far from home who are helping people realize the blessings of liberty."
Indeed, the only differences of opinion seemed to come on the issue of climate change and how to combat it. But was anything of substance accomplished by Merkel's visit to Crawford? German commentators take a closer look at what the talks mean for the Iran dispute.
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"In most issues of world politics, the American and German positions are parallel, or are coming closer together. That also applies to the slowly but steadily worsening crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Berlin and Washington have agreed that Tehran cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons. But Russia and China have so far prevented adequate pressure from being exerted on the mullah regime. Since delays work in Tehran's favor, Bush has recently hinted that Washington is thinking more and more about military solutions -- a message that is directed at least as much towards Moscow and Beijing as towards Tehran. However American saber-rattling also makes it easier for Merkel to finally push through effective economic sanctions against Iran in Europe. It must be made clear, in particular to especially enterprising companies, just what a military strike against Iran would mean for their investments and the price of oil. Bush's speech about wanting to bring Iran back on to the path of diplomacy should not delude us about his determination to resort to other means of persuasion if necessary. Bush cannot afford to waste time."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"With Russia as a difficult partner, China as a silent partner and France as a vacillating one, George W. Bush is lucky that he now knows 'Angela' well. She is his junior partner on the land mass that Washington is increasingly referring to as Eurasia. He can rely on her word -- even when the United States and Germany gently distance themselves from each other, as is the case with Iran. During her first US visit as chancellor, in January 2006, Angela Merkel said that Tehran should 'in no case' obtain nuclear weapons. It sounded almost as if Berlin was willing to accept a military option if necessary. Now she said in Texas: 'I'm deeply convinced that the diplomatic possibilities have not yet been exhausted.' She put it more clearly than Bush, who said that 'our deep desire' is to solve the problem without the use of force, but added: 'I believe that we can solve it diplomatically.' 'I believe' is not the same as 'deeply convinced.'"
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"If Bush promises the German chancellor that he will stick to the diplomatic approach of isolating Iran, if the two of them agree on sanctions as the next stage of escalation and get their plan approved by the United Nations (Security Council), then all this means nothing less than the following: The president has chosen to go against Vice President Dick Cheney and instead go with the solution favored by the Europeans of cautious but persistent escalation. It would also mean that the US needs Europe's influence, also to have enough pressure to bring to bear on Russia, which is playing a strange double game over Iran. This is the right strategy for this phase of the dispute. Iran feels the effects of financial sanctions while Western companies feel the pressure and hopefully understand that politics -- and in the end morality -- are more important than business."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Merkel is a few steps ahead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who only really started bringing his country back on to a US-friendly course last week (when he paid his first official visit to Washington). Bush is grateful to his two new friends because internationally there are not many governments that are so ready to cooperate with the current American administration, much less act in concert with the US. The US now needs Germany and France on its side, much more than in the past, when Germany was America's junior partner. The US's ill-considered warmongering and its bumbling diplomacy have weakened Washington in terms of international crisis management -- and strengthened the Europeans."
"There's little chance of the Bush administration becoming a multilateralist out of gratitude. Bush is happy to be seen with his new friends, but he wants to conduct politics by himself, as usual. If the situation in Iran gets worse and Washington decides after all that it's wise to respond to the mullahs' nuclear ambitions with air attacks, then the French and Germans could quickly find themselves again in a situation like at the beginning of the Iraq war. After all, the European allies have no alternatives with which they could talk Bush out of it."
-- Charles Hawley and David Gordon Smith, 1:00 p.m. CET
Stay informed with our free news services:
|All news from SPIEGEL International||Twitter | RSS|
|All news from Germany section||RSS|
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2007
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH