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Merkel's U.S. Visit Could Turn Testy


German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Washington, D.C. today. Top of the agenda will be the worsening crisis in Ukraine. Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have said the U.S. and its allies should not arm the Ukrainian government in the standoff with pro-Russian separatists. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Berlin.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: When Merkel visited President Obama in Washington last May, German relations with the U.S. were at a low point over revelations the NSA had spied on German soil and tapped the Chancellor's cell phone. This time, it's the U.S. that has hard feelings, and the reason is Germany's response to the crisis in Ukraine. Part of the annoyance is over the lack of American involvement in a proposed peace plan Merkel and French President Francois Hollande are frantically trying to broker between Kiev and Moscow. Adding to American frustration is Merkel's opposition to sending weapons to Ukraine to help the government there fight against separatists who are widely believed to be supplied by Russia. Their proposal was brought up at the Munich Security Conference, which is being attended by world leaders and U.S. lawmakers, including Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. He tore into Merkel during an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: My response to the chancellors is...

NELSON: "How many people have to die in Ukraine before we help them defend themselves," McCain asks through an interpreter.

MCCAIN: And those are legitimate questions that I think need to be asked.

NELSON: Merkel is having none of it, judging by her rather terse response to Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee during the Munich conference.



NELSON: "Look, I'm absolutely convinced there is no military solution to this conflict," she says. "A lot of weapons are already there and have done nothing to resolve the conflict." Whatever their disagreements, the Russian threat, as well as that from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, mean Germany and the U.S. need more than ever to be on the same side, says Annette Heuser, who is executive director of the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington.

ANNETTE HEUSER: What we are seeing is the ultimate stress test to the transatlantic relationship. And therefore, it is really essential that the key players, which are ultimately right now Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, are talking to each other this Monday.

NELSON: Besides talking about Ukraine and ISIS, Heuser expects the chancellor will press Obama on another topic Germans care about, namely the pending free trade deal known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

HEUSER: The Europeans are hoping that the negotiations can be finished in spring, 2016. But the ratification of this agreement needs to wait until the new U.S. administration is in place.

NELSON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.