Obama, Merkel pledge to cooperate on Libya, economy


For two allies passing through rocky times, the leaders of the United States and Germany on Tuesday put on a show of unity at the White House, demanding that Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi relinquish power and pledging to cooperate on issues as diverse as the war in Afghanistan and the global economy.

President Obama welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington and used the occasion to reiterate his determination to see Kadafi ousted. Obama said Kadafi’s four-decade-long grip on power was nearing an end and described his regime as “hunkered down” with his forces pushed back.

“You’re seeing defections, oftentimes of some very high-profile members of the Kadafi government, as well as the military,” Obama said. “It is just a matter of time before Kadafi goes.”


Obama’s assessment was backed by Merkel, whose government has balked at any involvement in the NATO-led military campaign to drive the Libyan leader out. Germany joined Russia and China in abstaining from a March 17 U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force to protect Libyan civilians from Kadafi’s troops, a move that drew the ire of the Obama administration and other allies.

But on Tuesday, Merkel stood alongside Obama and lauded the progress “we” have made against the Kadafi regime and said its end appeared imminent.

“It is our joint will that this NATO mission is successful,” Merkel said. “This is important for the people in Libya, but it’s also important for NATO.”

Obama pressed Merkel for a commitment to help in Libya after hostilities end and Kadafi is removed. The German leader agreed to offer job and vocational programs as well as assistance in building civil institutions and training security forces.

Some observers saw the overture of a postwar role for Germany as a face-saving way to get the allies in sync on Libya.

“That was an artful formulation,” said Heather Conley, a Europe specialist at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington.

After its controversial decision to abstain from the Security Council resolution on Libya, the German government agreed to send more military resources to Afghanistan, a move widely seen as an attempt to placate the Obama administration.

The scenes of public unity were sealed with the choreography of a state dinner and the presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by Obama to Merkel.

But the differences between the two countries extend beyond how to eject Kadafi. On the issue of the troubled global economy, Obama and Merkel have diverged over whether spending or spending cuts would be the best route back to prosperity. And Obama warned against allowing the debt crisis threatening countries such as Greece, Italy and Portugal to worsen. With Europe’s biggest economy and deepest pockets, Germany has insisted upon harsh austerity measures in those countries as the price of a bailout.

“I am confident that Germany’s leadership, along with other key actors in Europe, will help us arrive at a path for Greece to return to growth, for this debt to become more manageable,” Obama said.

Merkel said Europe was responsible for solving its own economic problems, but also noted that solutions in a globalized economy require working in concert.

“The world is full of problems that we need to address,” Merkel said. “That’s a reality and you cannot have enough partners that work together with you in a coordinated way, and this is why this cooperation is so extremely important for our common future.”