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Merkel’s Patient Diplomacy Is Tested by Trump and Putin’s ‘Axis of Testosterone’

Posted by hkarner - 7. Juli 2017

Date: 07-07-2017
Source: The Wall Street Journal

The German chancellor is hosting three of the world’s most polarizing heads of state at the G-20 meeting

HAMBURG, Germany—The U.S. president has accused her of ruining Germany. The Turkish president says she harbors terrorists. The Russian president, her spy agencies warn, may be about to interfere in her reelection campaign. In the coming days, German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets all three of them

In Hamburg, her birthplace, the 62-year-old pastor’s daughter hosts the Group of 20 summit thrust into a role no German chancellor has had to navigate in the postwar era. The leader of a country that generally disdains international confrontation is now the foil to three of the world’s most polarizing heads of state. Three countries that Germany had prized as partners have, in different ways and to varying degrees, become antagonists.“The world is turbulent,” Ms. Merkel said in a speech to parliament last week. “It has become less united.”

Germany, with its export-oriented businesses and its bloody past, long shied away from global power struggles or military engagements and instead sought to build deep ties with a variety of states. Like no other country, German officials often say, Europe’s largest economy relies on a harmonious, rules-based world order.

But at the two-day gathering in Hamburg, which officially begins Friday, global disunity that has been years in the making will become personified. Ms. Merkel will be in the middle of it, and her patient, deliberate style of diplomacy will be put to the test.

U.S. President Donald Trump, whom she met Thursday evening, castigated Ms. Merkel for her refugee policy during the election campaign. He is threatening to slap tariffs on German steel exports and has undermined one of Ms. Merkel’s top priorities by exiting the Paris climate accord. After the meeting, a spokesman for her said the two had spent an hour discussing G-20 issues and foreign crises.

Then she sat down with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said this week that “Germany is committing suicide” by not allowing him to deliver a speech to his countrymen on the sidelines of the summit. Later on, she will join French President Emmanuel Macron to face Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose annexation of Crimea three years ago now looks like the opening act in Europe’s era of geopolitical instability.

German lawmaker Cem Özdemir of the opposition Greens, recently referred to Messrs. Trump, Putin, and Erdogan as “the new authoritarian axis of testosterone.” But Ms. Merkel plays down the personal contrasts.

“Even if likability perhaps doesn’t come on a silver platter, I have the responsibility to take care of things and to try to understand the person, the partner, across from me,” the chancellor  said in an interview with women’s magazine Brigitte last week.

In dealing with difficult counterparts, people who have worked with her say, Ms. Merkel, a trained physicist, can be relentless in presenting her demands and the facts to back up her point of view. She is also willing to listen through sometimes angry monologues and to seek compromise to inch toward a solution, they say. The approach means that even adversarial leaders are willing to engage with her, analysts say, though it opens her up to criticism for being soft.

U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“She knows exactly what she wants, but because of her relatively quiet and mediating manner, it doesn’t come across as very threatening,” said Claudia Major at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “Much of Germany’s increased power, or responsibility, in recent years was extremely well framed by Merkel’s calm and measured demeanor.”

That was her approach as she led the West’s response to the Ukraine crisis, holding dozens of phone calls and meetings with Mr. Putin in which she repeatedly confronted him with evidence of Russian intervention in Ukraine while taking in his frustration over an alleged Western plot against Russia. Her government is now girding for possible Russian interference ahead of the Sept. 24 national election, and German intelligence officials say that the same suspected Russian hackers who stole Democrats’ emails in the U.S. campaign broke into the German parliament’s network in 2015.

“I don’t count myself as a fearful person,” Ms. Merkel said when asked about Russian hacking at a news conference alongside Mr. Putin in May.

Amid growing tensions with Mr. Erdogan, Ms. Merkel is also banking on repetition—stating over and over, for instance, that an imprisoned Turkish-German journalist, Deniz Yücel, needs to be set free because Turkey’s terror charges against him are without merit.

“The fact that Ms. Merkel placed the saving of a terror suspect on the agenda was something I found very, very peculiar,” Mr. Erdogan told Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper in an interview published this week.

With Mr. Trump, she tried to lay out facts to convince him of the merits of open markets when the two met in March, bringing German CEOs to the White House to underline her country’s investment in the U.S. But she has sounded increasingly disappointed with the U.S. president’s moves. In the Brigitte interview, she cited an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by two Trump aides as evidence that Mr. Trump sees globalization as a zero-sum gain, not a “win-win” opportunity.

“President Trump was certainly elected by many who are skeptical of globalization, and he feels he has a duty to those voters,” she told Die Zeit. Asked whether she could have imagined a year ago a G-20 meeting with Messrs. Putin, Trump, and Erdogan, she responded: “We have to accept these constellations as they are.”


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