Obama meets Merkel, to tour WWII concentration camp

U.S. President Barack Obama will visit the former Buchenwald concentration camp on Friday, before meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel for high-level talks on the economic crisis, the Middle East, and relations with Iran and Russia.


REUTERS - U.S. President Barack Obama will pay homage to the dead of World War Two during a visit to Europe but will also tackle some difficult issues with Germany’s present-day leadership.


Obama will tour the former Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany on Friday to commemorate victims of the Holocaust with Chancellor Angela Merkel.


He landed in the eastern city of Dresden, which was destroyed by U.S. and British bombers in the closing months of the war, late on Thursday evening.


There he will hold talks with Merkel on Friday morning on the financial crisis, the Middle East and relations with Iran and Russia.


On Saturday, Obama will join French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the Normandy beaches to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in a reminder to European states of the debt they owe the United States.


“Buchenwald concentration camp, the battle fields of northern France and the destruction of Dresden stand for the terrible suffering which Germany wreaked on Europe through the Holocaust and horror of World War Two,” Merkel told the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper in an interview. Obama has a personal link as his great uncle helped liberate a satellite camp of Buchenwald which was created by the Nazis near Weimar. An estimated 56,000 people were killed there.


Relations between Washington and Berlin have been less than smooth since Obama took office in January and German commentators have said the brevity of his trip and the decision not to come to Berlin were little short of a snub to Merkel.


Thorny issues the two leaders are likely to discuss include Germany’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan and possibly Berlin’s reluctance to take inmates from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay which has caused tension in Washington.


Officials say Obama is keen to hear Merkel’s view of Moscow due to the proximity to Russia and its reliance on its energy.


But analysts warned against expecting too much in the way of political decisions from the talks in Dresden, a city largely rebuilt after British and U.S. bombers flattened it and which has become a symbol of recovery.


“The Americans allowed the new rise of Europe and Germany, it wouldn’t have been possible without them,” said Bernhard May, an expert on German-U.S. ties at Berlin’s Trilateral Commission.


“Politicans are well-advised to see this visit as one focused on the basis of our relationship and not overburden it with day-to-day issues,” he said.


Later in the day, Obama will visit wounded U.S. soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan at the Landstuhl military hospital.


Locals in Dresden celebrated Obama’s visit with an outdoor beer festival on Thursday night with balloons, U.S. flags and a jazz band playing in front of a “Welcome Mr President” banner.


People wore stickers with Obama’s face and the slogan “Ich bin ein Dresdner”, echoing the “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech by former U.S. President John F. Kennedy in West Berlin in 1963 which is firmly engrained in the memory of many Germans.

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