Obama Goes to Germany

Obama expected to face questioning on surveillance, drone strikes, pivot to Asia in meeting with Merkel

Angela Merkel, Barack Obama / AP
• June 18, 2013 5:25 pm


President Barack Obama arrived in Germany Tuesday night for his first official visit as president to a key European ally where he is expected to face questions from German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday amid new disclosures about widespread U.S. electronic surveillance.

Other issues expected to be raised during the summit are the role played by U.S. military bases in Germany in drone strikes against terrorists and a U.S. pivot to Asia that has Europeans worried about diminished U.S. attention on the continent.

One indicator of the mood in Germany prior to the president’s arrival was captured on the front page of the magazine Der Spiegel. The current edition carries photos of Obama and President John F. Kennedy above a headline that reads "Barack Obama and the Germans. The Lost Friend."

The magazine stated in an editorial that "we no longer have a shining American hero … to rely on … since the United States can no longer play this role … even if it wanted to."

The highlight of the Obama visit will be an outdoor speech by the president near Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, a front line in the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union.

Kennedy enthralled Berliners 50 years ago with his speech telling Germans "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner) at the height of the Cold War.

As a U.S. senator, Obama attempted to give a speech at the Brandenburg Gate during his 2008 presidential campaign, but the German government turned down the request to avoid playing a role in the U.S. election.

German officials told reporters that Merkel will raise the issue of NSA electronic spying and data collection following disclosures by NSA contractor Edward Snowden of the PRISM surveillance program that gathered millions of Americans’ phone logs as part of a counterterrorism program.

The Germans are said to be concerned about NSA data collection against German Facebook, Twitter, and chat room communications.

Another issued expected to be raised during the Obama visit is the U.S. military’s use of German bases for foreign drone strikes.

German liberals were upset last month after ARD public television and the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported that satellite links at Ramstein Air Base in southern Germany are used in U.S. drone attacks against terrorists in Africa.

The satellite station is a communications link between U.S.-based drone pilots and remotely piloted aircraft operating in the Arabian Peninsula.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in May that the president’s visit would be a chance to question the United States on drone operations from Germany.

However, the main public topic of the visit will be talks related to a proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free trade pact between the two countries.

White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes in Washington prior to the president’s visit told reporters the visit would seek to reinforce "how critical the U.S.-German relationship is, both as a part of the transatlantic partnership and also in terms of our deep bilateral ties."

The agenda for talks will include unspecified economic and security issues, he said.

Obama and Merkel "have developed a very close working relationship since the beginning of 2009," Rhodes said.

According to Rhodes, topics on the summit agenda include the Eurozone’s economic problems, the free trade agreement, and Afghanistan, "where Germany remains a stalwart ally and continues to contribute to the mission there."

Syria, Iran, and Middle East peace also will be discussed.

On the Brandenburg speech, Rhodes said: "This is an historic site for the German people and for U.S. Presidents. It comes on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s speech, which was not at the Brandenburg Gate but was at the height of the Cold War when West Berlin was under considerable siege."

Speaking on the eastern side of the gate is "something that would have been impossible 50 years ago, but given the progress that's been made in Germany, and given the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of the country, it’s a true symbol of the partnership that we've forged together," he said.

Obama also will meet with Social Democratic Party leader Peer Steinbrueck of the Social Democratic Party Peer Steinberg, Germany’s main opposition political leader.

Obama and Merkel are scheduled to hold a joint press conference set to begin at 6:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday. He will return to the United States later Wednesday night following dinner hosted by Merkel.