Merkel and Bush Hand in Hand in the Crisis Zone

With Saddam's execution, the Iraq crisis and the ongoing Middle East conflict, Angela Merkel met a president under duress in Washington on Thursday. But George W. Bush still had a few compliments to spare for his German friend during her blitz visit.

By Georg Mascolo in Washington, DC

US President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel: Hoping to reconcile America and Europe.

US President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel: Hoping to reconcile America and Europe.

It's a tradition in the White House for favorite guests to be put up directly across the street at the official residence for the president's visitors, Blair House. Staying there is a special privilege for those considered to be the most important by Washington, so there was little surprise when President George W. Bush hosted her there this week.

After landing on Thursday, Merkel made a quick pit stop at the Blair House to freshen up for her visit to the Oval Office -- a day room for the chancellor, with a German flag waving in front of the door. Thursday's visit was the shortest possible under diplomatic protocol. Merkel arrived in the late afternoon, chatted with Bush, held a short press conference and then had dinner with George and First Lady Laura before making her way back to the airport and returning to Berlin.

But finding a date for even this short meeting had been a problem for the guest as well as her host. Since Germany assumed the role of presidency of both the European Union and the G-8, Merkel's schedule has been full. And Bush has altogether different worries at the moment.

"She has a lot of good wisdom"

Before the chancellor arrived, Bush spent 105 minutes on a video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that was only scheduled to last 60. Because of Merkel's visit Bush managed to dodge uncomfortable questions from the American media -- he neither wanted to discuss his new Iraq strategy (which he will announce next week) nor the Saddam Hussein execution debacle.

But the symbolism of Merkel's visit was important: She wanted to broadcast an image of Europe standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States -- something that Bush, who has few remaining friends, will value. The chancellery warned even before her trip that there wouldn't be any major announcements during Merkel's trip. Instead they would review the list of international conflicts -- including Afghanistan and Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and the stalled World Trade Organization Doha round. Bush summoned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and his commerce and treasury secretaries, Susan Schwab and Hank Paulson to participate in the talks.

The president promised to support Merkel's plan to revive the Middle East quartet effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And both were united in the opinion that an international tribunal must be created as soon as possible to prosecute those responsible for the murder of Lebanese politician Rafik al-Hariri. A working group will also be set up to explore Merkel's desire to deepen economic cooperation between the US and the EU.

And there was at least one surprise: Bush showed noticeable interest in climate change and the deployment of new technologies to reduce CO2 emissions. A working group will also be set up to coordinate possible cooperation between Europe and the US in this area, too.

Bush wants more energy independence from the petrocrats, and fears of a climate disaster are also growing amongst Americans. For some months, the State Department has been advising the administration to present a greener and more environmentally friendly face in order to improve its desolate image in Europe.

The ensuing press conference in the White House foyer lasted 22 minutes and, as Bush feared, American journalists only had two things on their minds: Iraq and Saddam. The president put off those questions, saying he would answer them next week, but conceded that he wished Saddam's execution hand been handled in a "more dignified way." Still, "he was given a fair trial -- something he was unwilling to give thousands of Iraqi citizens."

But the president wasn't able to relax until the end. He praised the chancellor, saying: "I listen to Angela Merkel a lot. She has got a lot of wisdom."

"I don't know if this helps her or hurts her for me to say this, but my consultations with Angela are very productive and very important."


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