WASHINGTON, June 7 – German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Washington Tuesday for a three-day summit with US President Barack Obama amid lingering differences over the dour world economy and Mideast policy.
Obama and Merkel kicked off the visit late Monday away from the confines of the White House, with a dinner in the upscale Georgetown section of Washington.
"They spoke for two hours," a source with the German delegation told AFP.
"It was a nice conversation, in a relaxed atmosphere," held in the popular "1789," a cozy corner restaurant featuring American haute cuisine.
Among their talking points were the crises in North Afica and the Middle East, the euro crisis, the world economy and German and American affairs, according to officials from the German delegation.
Merkel, who will be feted during her stay at a lavish White House banquet, has been joined during her American visit by her reclusive chemist husband Joachim Sauer and several cabinet members.
But German media noted that behind the pomp would be lingering strain over Berlin\’s decision in March to abstain in the UN Security Council vote authorizing military action to protect civilians in Libya.
Germany, which has a non-permanent seat on the council, was the only European Union or NATO member to withhold its support.
Obama told Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel that he would now like to see Germany do more to help the international effort in Libya.
"I look forward to discussing with the chancellor how we can enhance our work together to more effectively address the changes underway in the region, including in Libya," he said, in an interview published Monday.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said shortly after his arrival in Washington late Monday that the amicable start to the visit "shows that US-German relations are extraordinary."
But he noted that lingering tensions between Berlin and Washington over some issues, notably Germany\’s decision not to join military action against Libya, in which Washington, Britain and France have played leading roles.
"Of course, even closest friends sometimes disagree on some things," Westerwelle said.
But he said Germany would "firmly" stick to its guns on the issue that has led to strained relations with its partners on both sides of the Atlantic.
"You must not confuse our position on Libya with neutrality — we want a political solution," the German diplomat said.
"We are clearly against a dictator who has started a war against his own people, we want Libya to get a fair chance by (Moamer) Kadhafi leaving."
"We want to deliver humanitarian help," he added, and said Germany was "ready to help with the political process."
Also on the agenda for Merkel and Obama is a discussion about the role of developing countries in the International Monetary Fund and whether it is a given that an American is always head of the World Bank and a European at the IMF.
Germany strongly supports French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde for the IMF post vacated last month by Dominique Strauss-Kahn after the Frenchman was arrested and charged with sexual assault in New York.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said she "personally" welcomed Lagarde\’s candidacy for the IMF leadership, although she noted the United States had not taken an official position.
Mexican central banker Agustin Carstens has also thrown his hat in the ring, saying that becoming the next IMF chief would be a major victory for the entire developing world.
Obama was also to award Merkel the Presidential Medal of Freedom during her stay. The honor was conferred in February to 15 prominent figures, but Merkel was unable to attend.
The medal, the highest US honor that can be bestowed on a civilian, is given to people who have made significant contributions "to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."