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Libya, economy on agenda as Obama welcomes Merkel for official visit

June 07, 2011|By Christi Parsons, Washington Bureau
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais…)

Reporting from Washington — President Obama will publicly honor the German chancellor during an elaborate official visit to the White House on Tuesday, but behind closed doors he is expected to press her to step up Germany’s involvement in the international response to unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

Obama will present Chancellor Angela Merkel with the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor for civilians, while First Lady Michelle Obama plans an event highlighting the importance of women in diplomacy. Merkel is the first female head of government to visit the Obama White House.

But in an interview with a German newspaper Monday, President Obama said he plans to bring up the popular movements threatening autocratic regimes in the Middle East, singling out Libya in particular. Germany is staying out of the NATO campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi.

"I look forward to discussing with the chancellor how we can enhance our work together to more effectively address the changes underway in the region, including in Libya," Obama told Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel. "This is an historic moment of opportunity."

The visit comes as the allies enter their third month of military action to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and pressure Kadafi to step down. Germany is pressing for a negotiated end to the fighting, and has sent more troops to Afghanistan in a show of support for the transatlantic alliance.

At the same time, the Obama and Merkel administrations have pursued different strategies in response to the global economic crisis, with Berlin choosing extreme austerity measures over Washington’s attempts to spur the economy through spending.

"We're all working on finding the right balance between providing the support the economy needs for a strong recovery and taking the steps that are required to guarantee our long-term fiscal sustainability," Obama said in the Tagesspiegel interview.

On Tuesday, the two leaders will hold a one-on-one meeting, as well as a joint news White House conference with the German and American press.

Merkel's trip to Washington is not technically considered an official "state" visit, because she is the head of the German government rather than the head of state, a title that belongs to the German president. Nevertheless, the Obamas will receive her with all the pomp and circumstance of a state visit, greeting her with a review of American troops and an elaborate state dinner.

In addition, Merkel will join Michelle Obama in an event with local young women to talk about women in diplomacy. Brooke Anderson, chief of staff to the National Security staff, will join the two in meeting with girls from two local high schools and members of the Girl Scouts.

Obama and Merkel also dined together Monday night at an upscale Georgetown restaurant.

Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, holds a doctorate in physics and once worked as a quantum chemist in East Berlin. She became the first female chancellor of Germany in 2005.

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