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Bushs Charm Offensive

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel(L) and US President George W. Bush look at each other at the American Jewish Committee's centennial dinner in Washington 04 May 2006 in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of Paul J. Richards and AFP.
by Stefan Nicola
UPI Germany Correspondent
Berlin (UPI) May 09, 2006
U.S. President George W. Bush is trying to fish for extra support in Europe, calling German Chancellor Angela Merkel a "fellow strategist" and mulling over closing the U.S.-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Asked about Merkel in an interview held in the White House last week with German public broadcaster ARD, Bush said:

"Her dad was a pastor and she talked about the different pioneer clubs and the schools. It also gave me a chance to get a glimpse into her soul.

"She is what she is. She's not a fake. And when I sit there talking to Angela... I think strength of character. I think reliability. I think clear-headed thinking. I think of a fellow strategist as to how to solve problems."

How times have changed. Only a year ago, such comments would have been unthinkable; former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder visited the Kremlin more often than he did the White House after he fell out with Bush over the U.S.-led Iraq war.

While observers in Berlin and Washington expected an improvement in the relationship when Merkel took office late last year, the speed with which the trans-Atlantic relationship has returned to cozy has them surprised.

"Maybe we painted the world darker than it really was when we said the relationship between Schroeder and Bush was terrible and hard to repair," Tim Stuchtey, head of the Berlin-based think tank Humboldt Institution on trans-Atlantic Issues, Monday told United Press International.

He added Germany had won in "relative strength" due to the political instability in much of Europe.

French President Jacques Chirac and British Premier Tony Blair are struggling with domestic difficulties, and a new center-left government in Italy may very well lower support for Bush's Iraq policy.

Bush, observers say, sees in Merkel, a center-right politician who grew up in former communist East Germany, the strongest bet Europe has to offer for now in the ongoing struggle to break the impasse over Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Iran, under its international treaty obligations, has the right to enrich uranium for its nuclear energy program. The West believes, however, Tehran is using the process to secretly -- and illegally -- build nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.

"The most important thing in achieving a diplomatic solution -- and I want the German people to understand -- I want this issue to be solved diplomatically and I think it can be solved diplomatically," Bush said, in an obvious bid to seek support for his policy in Europe. Eight in 10 Germans during the conflict opposed the Iraq war, with millions taking the streets all over Europe.

"I fully understand why a government or a people would be, you know, I guess disappointed in me in a way, and not understand why somebody would commit troops to achieve an objective," he said, adding the war was necessary and that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had served as "a change in our history."

Russia and China are key figures in the Iran crisis: As of now, they are unwilling to support wide-reaching economic sanctions -- which Washington aims for in case Iran doesn't halt its uranium enrichment program.

Observers say Merkel may act as a mediator between Russia and the United States as that alliance has lost in strength recently because of Moscow's poor human rights record.

Europeans also criticize Washington's human rights record: Merkel, ahead of her first trip to the White House in February, had urged Bush to close down Guantanamo. In the interview, Bush said he knew the prison was a "sensitive issue" for people.

"I very much would like to end Guantanamo; I very much would like to get people to a court," he said. "And we're waiting for our Supreme Court to give us a decision as to whether the people need to have a fair trial in a civilian court or in a military court."

Speaking to German mass-selling tabloid daily Bild, Bush showed his humorous side, which Merkel reportedly likes. When asked about what he deemed the best moment of his presidency, Bush said, after a bit of thinking:

"I would say the best moment was when I caught a seven-and-a-half-pound largemouth bass on my lake."

Source: United Press International

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