G-7 a chance to mend bond

Obama and Merkel’s planned stroll won’t be just a walk in the park

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Christi Par­sons christi.par­sons@la­times.com

MU­NICH, Ger­many — When Pres­i­dent Obama ar­rives in Ger­many this week­end for the an­nual meet­ing of the heads of the world’s largest eco­nomic pow­ers, he plans only a sin­gle ex­tended, one-on-one get-to­gether, a stroll through a pic­turesque Bavar­ian vil­lage with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel.

Obama and Merkel plan to walk the streets of Krun, chat with vil­lagers and share a meal of wurst and sauer­kraut, an es­pe­cially leisurely af­ter­noon for a pres­i­dent who of­ten skips lunch on trips to fit in more­work.

The time de­voted to Merkel re­flects more than just per­sonal affin­ity and a de­sire to show cour­tesy to the host of this year’s Group of 7 in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions’ sum­mit.

On many of the is­sues on the sum­mit’s agenda — re­spond­ing to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s moves against Ukraine, find­ing a so­lu­tion for the eco­nomic trou­bles of Greece, con­fronting Iran over its nu­clear pro­gram, bol­ster­ing Iraq’s govern­ment in the fight against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants — Merkel has be­come Europe’s most im­por­tant voice and a key U.S. ally.

“Merkel is the Euro­pean leader he [Obama] openly ad­mits he’s been prob­a­bly the clos­est to,” said Ju­lianne Smith, a former ad­vi­sor on na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues to Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den. And yet, she said, “that re­la­tion­ship has re­ally weath­ered a num­ber of storms over the last year.”

The big­gest storm was the dis­clo­sure in Oc­to­ber 2013 that the U.S. had been eaves­drop­ping on Merkel’s tele­phone calls for at least three years. The news sur­prised and an­gered the chan­cel­lor, who grew up un­der East Ger­many’s re­pres­sive com­mu­nist govern­ment.

“Trust must now be built anew,” she de­clared.

Obama spent much of the last year on that re­build­ing ef­fort, apol­o­giz­ing to Merkel and putting new poli­cies in place to ban eaves­drop­ping on the lead­ers of key al­lied gov­ern­ments, par­tic­u­larly the Ger­mans.

But the two bat­tle-weary lead­ers — the long­est-serv­ing heads of govern­ment at the­week­end sum­mit— have lit­tle choice but to work to­gether on the vex­ing chal­lenges they face, and the sum­mit could pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity to put the ten­sion be­hind them.

The pres­i­dent “con­tin­ues to reach out to her. I think they still trust each other. They have very prag­matic ap­proaches to prob­lem solv­ing,” said Smith, who is now di­rec­tor of Strat­egy and State­craft at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity, a Wash­ing­ton pol­icy think tank. “So, there’s not a lot of day­light there on the chal­lenges of the day.”

At the top of Obama’s agenda with the Ger­man leader is the con­flict with Rus­sia over its ag­gres­sive moves in neigh­bor­ing Ukraine. This sum­mit is the an­nualmeet­ing of what used to be called the Group of 8, when it in­cluded Rus­sia. Af­ter Moscow’s takeoverof Crimea last year, Putin was dis­in­vited, and this will be the sec­ond sum­mit meet­ing with­out him.

Obama plans to en­cour­age his six fel­low lead­ers to con­tinue sanc­tions on Rus­sia, part of what he de­scribes as a slow and steady pres­sure push­ing down the Rus­sian econ­omy.

He and Merkel will voice their sup­port for full im­ple­men­ta­tion of a cease-fire plan for Ukraine reached in Fe­bru­ary but fre­quently vi­o­lated. The lin­ger­ing ques­tion is how long towait for its terms to be ful­filled and what to do in the mean­time.

Merkel has op­posed pro­vid­ing arms to the Ukrainian govern­ment in its fight against Rus­sia-backed sep­a­ratists. She wor­ries that the weapons would lead to a wider war. Many of Obama’s ad­vi­sors sup­port broader mil­i­tary aid, although the pres­i­dent has left the is­sue un­re­solved.

The two will also talk about the fu­ture of in­ter­na­tional economics for Ukraine, which is nearly bank­rupt.

With a June 30 dead­line to fin­ish nu­clear talks with Iran, the sum­mit also will be the last op­por­tu­nity for Obama to sit down with sev­eral key part­ners in the ne­go­ti­a­tions. Along with Merkel, Obama plans to meet with Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron and French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande to “make sure that we are in lock step,” one se­nior Obama ad­vi­sor said, speak­ing anony­mously to com­ment on diplo­matic talks.

The group will also dis­cuss events in Iraq and the fight against Is­lamic State. Merkel in­vited Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider Abadi to come and dis­cuss strat­egy.

Obama hopes to con­vince the other lead­ers that the U.S.-led air cam­paign in Iraq, along with ef­forts to train and equip Iraqi se­cu­rity forces, will suc­ceed in push­ing back the mil­i­tants. None of the al­lies are in­ter­ested in send­ing ground troops, although many Pen­tagon of­fi­cials are skep­ti­cal of the Iraqi forces’ will­ing­ness to stand and fight.

As Obama and Merkel stroll, how­ever, the is­sue of U.S. covert op­er­a­tions and elec­tronic sur­veil­lance in Ger­many will con­tinue to linger in the back­ground.

Re­cent re­ports about Ger­many’s in­tel­li­gence agency, its close co­op­er­a­tion with U.S. in­tel­li­gence and its col­lec­tion of in­for­ma­tion on Ger­man com­pa­nies have raised con­cern among Ger­mans, threat­en­ing Merkel’s pop­u­lar­ity, said Heather Con­ley, di­rec­tor of the Europe pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, a Wash­ing­ton think tank.

“This is­sue re­mains very live and very po­tent for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses,” Con­ley said. “And in some ways, it is be­ing used as a very overt at­tempt to, I be­lieve, weaken the chan­cel­lor and all that she’s do­ing, whether that’s vis-a-vis Rus­sia or in other ar­eas.”

With his own in­ter­ests at stake, Obama needs to ease the friend­ship past the rocky patch.

The visit to Krun is “not just about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the pres­i­dent and Merkel,” said Char­lie Kupchan, se­nior di­rec­tor for Euro­pean Af­fairs in Obama’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. It’s about “show­cas­ing” the strong bonds be­tween the two lead­ers and their coun­tries.

Jens Meyer As­so­ci­ated Press

BAL­LOONS with im­ages of Pres­i­dent Obama and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel float in Dres­den, Ger­many. The Group of 7 sum­mit is a chance for the key al­lies to put re­cent ten­sions be­hind them.

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