European Roadshow Obama's Germany Itinerary Ruffles Feathers in France, UK
Barack Obama is making Germany the major focus of his trip to Europe this week, a choice that is being viewed with some displeasure in Paris and London. One day after the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee officially announced his plan to hold a speech at the Siegesäule, or "Victory Column," in Berlin, SPIEGEL ONLINE also obtained information about his preliminary European agenda.
Candidate Obama: His team views German Chancellor Angela Merkel as Europe's strongest leaders at the moment.Foto: AP
One-on-one meetings for Obama have now been confirmed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. But so far he is only including time in his stops in Paris and London for French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. A decision still hasn't been made on whether the Democratic candidate will meet with the foreign ministers of those countries.
The source said this had caused additional irritation in government circles in Paris and London. High-ranking politicians there are already annoyed that the controversy about Obama's desire to hold his speech at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate had distracted attention from the purpose of his European visit -- to outline his vision for trans-Atlantic relations.
Obama is currently in Afghanistan and plans to continue his trip to Iraq -- followed by stops in Israel and Jordan as well as visits to Berlin, Paris and Loendon.
"The French and British feel that Germany is getting too much attention," a source told SPIEGEL ONLINE. This could prove to be a prickly issue considering traditionally close British-American ties. The Brits are also an important part of the US-led alliance in Iraq. Resentment has been stirred in London because Obama is no longer starting his Europe trip in the British capital as was initially planned. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for his part, has demonstratively pursued a path of political rapprochement with Washington following years of antagonistic relations between former President Jacque Chirac and George W. Bush.
Obama's team has left no doubts about the fact that it considers German Chancellor Angela Merkel to be the strongest leader in Europe at present. Their reasoning: Sarkozy hasn't been in office long enough yet and Brown has been swept up in a domestic crisis. US Congressman Robert Wexler, a Democrat, recently spoke on behalf of Obama on Germany's N-TV cable news channel, emphasizing that German-American relations were the "most established."
But not even the Germans are totally satisfied. They are calling for further one-on-one meetings with Obama -- conversations that, according to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE are not very likely to happen. If he keeps to his itinerary, Obama will meet German politicians before he gives his speech on Thursday evening.
But Randy Scheunemann, foreign policy advisor to presumptive Republican nominee for John McCain, accused him in a SPIEGEL interview of not setting aside sufficient time to meet with other European leaders. "Obama is giving his first major speech in Berlin before having met with French or British leaders," Scheunemann said. "I don't know if (the speech will) even be delivered before his meeting with German leaders. Clearly he is not taking into account what they say. It is a campaign prop."
And though Obama's words may appear exceptionally harmonious during his trip, they cannot cover up the fact that he may also find strong words about Germany's engagement in Afghanistan. In an interview with SPIEGEL, Obama's leading foreign policy advisor Susan Rice said: "Neither Germany nor the US has the luxury of assuming that we can skate by on half-measures in Afghanistan and Parkistan and not risk suffering the consequences." She added that the "US has to put more resources and troops into Afghanistan, and NATO should do the same, while, to the greatest extent possible, lifting operational restrictions."
Kurt Beck, the chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) offered a reserved response to Rice's statement. "As far as expanding the mission is concerned, no more can be done," he said on Sunday.