Hope for healing: As allies, Obama and Merkel seek a fresh start

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The meeting Friday between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama may have improved communications between the countries, but it also highlighted unresolved problems.

U.S.-German cooperation is important on a number of levels. The United States is still the world’s largest economy, even though China’s is expected to outgrow it by the end of this year. Germany’s is fourth, behind Japan, and the strongest in Europe. In the discussions with Iran on its nuclear program, Germany is the additional party to the talks with China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. As the preeminent member of the 28-nation European Union, Germany is heavily involved in EU affairs.

The Obama administration is working with Ms. Merkel to keep Germany and the rest of NATO in sync with the United States on dealing with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, with whom Ms. Merkel has a working relationship on the Ukraine issue. She is not, however, taken by the idea of NATO being drawn into a more antagonistic position with Russia. Europe’s trade with Russia is more than 10 times that of the United States, with some European countries heavily dependent on it for natural gas.

Another problem between the United States and Germany that manifested itself Friday was continued resentment over U.S. National Security Agency surveillance of German communications, including Ms. Merkel’s cellphone. During their meeting Mr. Obama tried to take the position that the problem has been solved, and that Ms. Merkel is one of his “closest friends.” It didn’t really work.

The Germans have lived a dismal history of privacy violations, notably Hitlers Gestapo and the East German Stasi, which Ms. Merkel experienced firsthand. She and her countrymen are not going to believe easily that U.S. spying has stopped. All in all, Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel still have a way to go before full trust and cooperation are restored.

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