Merkel's US trip to focus on Ukraine crisis
BERLIN (AP) — The crisis in Ukraine will dominate talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama in Washington this week, with both leaders keen to show the West is united in its resolve to take even tougher measures against Russia if necessary.
The U.S. and European Union both imposed new sanctions against Moscow on Monday, accusing Russia of failing to implement a diplomatic accord aimed at calming the situation in Ukraine.
Merkel and Obama will discuss when they meet Friday at what point further measures — targeting the Russian economy directly — could be taken, senior German officials said before Merkel's two-day trip to Washington, which starts Thursday.
Henning Riecke, an expert on U.S.-German relations, said Merkel would seek to calm American concerns that Germany might waver on further sanctions because of its close economic ties to Russia.
"This is a really dangerous situation and it's important that America and its partners show unity," said Riecke, who works at the German Council on Foreign Relations, a Berlin-based think tank. "I expect a strong statement indicating that the West has certain red lines when it comes to Ukraine and the security of its NATO allies in Eastern Europe."
A strong show of unity over Ukraine would help smooth over differences that have emerged between Berlin and Washington over a trans-Atlantic trade pact — where regulation is a thorny issue — and the U.S. National Security Agency's spy programs.
Germany has failed to get assurances from Washington that the NSA isn't engaged in illegal activity on German soil — an issue that risked overshadowing Merkel's first trip to the U.S. since the extent of the NSA's eavesdropping operations were revealed almost a year ago. Merkel, whose own cellphone was reportedly targeted by the NSA, has tried to dampen expectations before her trip after the Obama administration indicated that it wasn't interested in signing a "no spy" deal with Berlin.
"She knows there won't be a 'no spy agreement' and she's a pragmatist," said Heike MacKerron, the Berlin director of The German Marshall Fund of the United States. "She will raise the issue for domestic purposes, not because she expects anything from the American government."
A German parliamentary panel investigating the NSA affair has asked the government to give its opinion on a possible invitation to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The reply is likely to be published around the same time Merkel and Obama hold a joint news conference at midday Friday. Merkel will also meet with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday.
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