Obama Calls German Chancellor Angela Merkel 'His Closest Ally'

Nov 17, 2016
Originally published on November 18, 2016 9:18 am
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Obama is in Berlin on what will likely be his last official visit to Germany. Many Germans are looking to him for reassurance after Donald Trump's victory. But the president has encouraged them to instead look to their own leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, as a steadying influence. Obama describes her as his closest ally. This is from an interview he gave earlier today with the German public broadcaster ARD.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: She has great credibility, and she is willing to fight for those values in a way that is very, very important. I'm glad that she's there, and I think the German people should appreciate her. Certainly I've appreciated her as a partner.

SIEGEL: Well, let's go now to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson who's covering the Merkel and Obama meeting in Berlin. And Soraya, these two leaders have not always had the closest relationship, especially after revelations a couple of years ago that the NSA had tapped her and other Germans' phones. Is all that friction over now?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, certainly the media here seemed to think so, and they're calling the relationship between Obama and Merkel love at second sight. It does really appear all things are forgiven, and Merkel certainly alluded to it during a news conference they held after their meeting.

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ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: She described the strained relations between German and U.S. intelligence services as difficult hours, but she lauded President Obama for putting privacy protection on his agenda. And she says it's really important that the U.S. and Germany work together to fight issues like terror. She also said it was really hard to say goodbye to President Obama. She called him her friend, but she stressed that she and her government would do their best to work with the next U.S. president as well.

She made it very clear that some of the harsh language that came from German members of her cabinet, like the foreign minister calling President-elect Donald Trump a hate monger or hate preacher, that that - those times were over. The campaign is over.

SIEGEL: Her own term as chancellor is over next year. Is Merkel planning to run again for a fourth term?

NELSON: Boy, that's the $64,000 question. And it does look like she will based on what we're hearing from some of her political allies, and it seems that the announcement might be expedited because of the win by President-elect Trump.

But she said today at the news conference when she was asked about it that this wasn't the forum to make that kind of announcement. Many say it might happen on Sunday when she meets with her political party. But Obama gave her a little nudge.

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OBAMA: Yeah, if I were here and I were German and I had a vote, I might support her.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: But it's - I don't know whether that hurts or helps.

SIEGEL: Now, Angela Merkel is being touted by some as the next leader of the free world. Is that something she aspires to?

NELSON: The truth is that Chancellor Merkel is really uncomfortable with that role. It's not her governance style. She's very subtle, even within the EU. Although she is the most important leader there, the strongest leader, and certainly Germany is the strongest country economically and politically within the union.

And when she has taken a strong stance, like on refugees, she's been slapped down pretty hard because I think Europeans are still pretty nervous about a strong Germany and certainly a strong German leader.

She certainly was in no mood to talk about being the basically remaining leader of the free world today with reporters. She says there are plenty of other leaders with similar visions, and then she ended the press conference.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.