24th Sep 2023

Obama keeps leaders at arm's length on Europe trip

  • Obama's trip to Germany and France is a little cloudy (Photo: The White House)

US President Barack Obama is set to have a brief and rather chilly encounter with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday (5 June) and the French president one day later, after France failed to invite the British Queen to the upcoming D-Day anniversary.

The main focus of president Obama's current foreign trip was the re-conciliation speech with the Muslim world held in Cairo on Thursday, where he set some new tones in the US foreign policy towards the Middle East and adopted a tougher stance on Israel.

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Against this backdrop, his weekend stops in Germany and France, commemorating the end of the second World War, look rather polite, but distant, especially after French President Nicolas Sarkozy refused to invite the British Queen to the World War II ceremonies he will be hosting on Saturday on the Normandy beaches.

Mr Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Monday the US was working to get the Queen invited, as she was at the previous ceremonies marking 60 years since D-Day. On Tuesday, Prince Charles's office announced he had received a French invitation and would go instead, along with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Canadian premier Stephen Harper and US filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

In return, the US president, arriving in Paris on Friday evening, where he will be joined by his wife Michelle and two daughters, has declined a dinner invitation with the Sarkozys on top of the Eiffel tower.

"Sarkozy has pulled off a double hit: insulting Queen Elizabeth and exasperating Obama," the weekly Canard Enchaine said on Wednesday. According to Le Figaro, Mr Obama was reluctant to spend too much time with the French leader ahead of the EU elections on Sunday.

On Wednesday, popular comedian Nicolas Canteloup did an impression of Mr Sarkozy being worried that he had "only two days to become tall, handsome and elegant."

But Mr Obama is also keeping a cool stance towards German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He declined her attempts to have him stop in Berlin or Weimar during this trip. This has prompted media speculation of a chill in US-German relations, particularly since the G20 and NATO summits, where Ms Merkel refused to mirror the US stimulus package and to commit more troops to Afghanistan.

Woes over the embattled car industry, especially Opel, are also said to be souring the Washington-Berlin relationship.

The White House emphasized the "private nature" of Mr Obama's visit to Germany, mainly aimed at paying homage to the liberation by the US army of the Nazi concentration camp in Buchenwaldt. Mr Obama's grand-uncle was one of the soldiers participating in the liberation.

According to Spiegel Online, the chancellor's office is now trying to secure Mr Obama's presence at the commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall later this autumn.

The US president will then also visit the US military hospital in Landstuhl, where soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are treated.

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