Was German FM's first Washington visit a success or failure? Still not clear

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Was German FM's first Washington visit a success or failure? Still not clear
Sigmar Gabriel (l) with Rex Tillerson (r) in Washington. Photo: DPA.

The German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister was the first Berlin official to meet the new Donald Trump administration. But whether he managed to solidify transatlantic ties depends on who you ask.


Vice Chancellor and newly appointed Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel met his brand new counterpart, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday in Washington. Gabriel was also greeted by Vice President Mike Pence.

The German minister himself said on Thursday that there were differences with US President Donald Trump’s stances on immigration, Europe, Ukraine and relations with Russia. But Gabriel said during his meeting with Pence and Tillerson that these differences did not show.

“I was very happy that we had a wide range of common understanding,” Gabriel said.

But German media seemed to have differing takes on how the meeting truly transpired.

The Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) characterized it as “small gestures, a big work in progress”, while Spiegel called their meeting “the icebreaker”.

SZ described “tensions” and “emptiness” in Washington during Gabriel’s visit and noted that Gabriel seems to have to reassure himself about the new American government, continuing to state that Germany must be confident going forward.

“The more often he says this, the more it seems he is trying to give himself courage in stormy times,” the SZ states.

But Spiegel described “good discussions” and Gabriel’s “great talent” in getting to know the new American leadership, finding joy in the fact that he and Pence were the same age - 57.

“And from that moment, the ice was broken,” Spiegel wrote.

Gabriel himself explained that both Pence and Tillerson made it clear that they had great interests in having a strong relationship with Europe. They also said that they did not interpret the UK’s departure from the EU as the beginning of the Union's collapse.

The German Vice Chancellor added that the US must also have a personal interest in maintaining a strong Europe.

Pence confirmed to Gabriel that he would travel to Germany for the Munich Security Conference from February 17th to 19th. Whether Tillerson will also join was not clear, though he did say he intended to attend the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Bonn on February 16th and 17th.

Gabriel - who became Foreign Minister just last week - was the first foreign leader to visit the new Secretary of State, and the first member of the German government to meet Trump’s administration. He therefore dubbed he and his American counterpart the “New Kids on the Block”, referencing the 1980s boy band.

The German minister further argued against Trump’s isolationist ideas and for free and fair trade.

And after Trump modified US sanctions against Russian security services on Thursday, Gabriel said he emphasized to the US leaders that the existing EU sanctions against Russia would only be dismantled if progress was made in peace agreements for east Ukraine.

“No one said anything against this,” Gabriel said about his Washington meeting.

Gabriel also appealed to Pence and Tillerson for a strong transatlantic partnership, arguing that from a political and cultural perspective, the US was the closest to Germany and Europe.

“Therefore we are going to the USA with an extended hand,” the German Foreign Minister said.

He also reminded his Washington partners about their countries’ shared values.

“What binds us together with the USA is a solid framework of values. But we must maintain these values, we should not deviate from them,“  he affirmed, naming in particular religious freedom and treating one another with fairness.

German leaders including Gabriel have expressed concern that the US has already strayed from these principles with recent temporary travel bans issued against citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations. Trump’s discussion of using torture techniques like waterboarding has also raised alarm.

From Washington, Gabriel is headed to New York on Friday to meet with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.



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