Merkel stresses need for strong, stable relationship between U.S. and Germany

In her address before a joint session of Congress Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the need for a strong transatlantic partnership on key issues.

Merkel cited Iran's nuclear ambitions, the war in Afghanistan, climate change and financial regulations as areas where the U.S. and Europe needed to cooperate in order to achieve success.

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"Europe will not find a better partner than America and America will not find a better partner than Europe," Merkel said.

But the German chancellor did pause to recognize America's strained relations with Europe during the Bush administration. She said that one side was viewed as "too hesitant, too slow to act," while the other was seen as "too headstrong and too pushy." Merkel appeared to reference the U.S. government's effort to urge European nations to invade Iraq in 2003. 

She concluded, however, that "a common understanding of freedom and responsibility" bind America and Europe, saying "this is what we stand up for ... in this community of shared values."

Some tensions, however, still exist between the two allies. The U.S. would reportedly like Gemany to increase its troop presence in Afghanistan, a move that would be deeply unpopular with Germans.

America and Europe are also at odds with how to handle bailed-out financial institutions that were deemed “too big to fail” during last year’s financial crisis. European nations, such as Great Britain, are taking steps to break up large firms. But the Obama administration prefers to keep the firms together and create separate regulatory agencies that could liquidate such firms if they encounter major problems.

For most of her speech, Merkel swept aside such differences, spending the beginning of her remarks discussing her difficult upbringing in communist East Germany and the history of American-German relations.

Merkel on Tuesday became the first German chancellor to address a joint session of Congress. Before her, German chancellor Konrad Adenauer spoke to each chamber separately in 1957. After receiving an extended ovation as she took the rostrum, Merkel remarked, "it's very moving, I must say."

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Merkel spoke on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which divided East Germany and democratic West Germany.

She cited Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan’s historic appearances in Berlin and also recognized the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities during World War II. She concluded that American-German relations had come a long way since the war.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I know we Germans know how much we owe to you, our American friends,” she said. “We shall never, I will never forget this.”

She dedicated much of her time stressing the importance of an economic partnership between Europe and America, identifying new financial regulations, climate change and free trade as essential elements of the partnership. 

Merkel said that economic leaders such as U.S. and Germany need to work together on new regulations through international organizations such as the G-20, adding that poorly conceived regional and national standards helped contribute to the financial crisis.

"In a way, this a second wall that needs to fall," Merkel said. "[Global financial policy] needs to be more sustainable because this crisis was the consequence of a way of thinking that was too short-term."

Merkel said that climate change was another area where global cooperation is needed. She praised President Barack Obama for supporting climate restrictions in the U.S. But she called on the U.S. government to back an agreement to be proposed at the December Copenhagen climate conference that restricts global warming to two degrees Celsius.

After a meeting at the White House earlier today, Obama praised Merkel as an "extraordinary leader" on climate change, adding that "the United States, Germany, and countries around the world I think are all beginning to recognize why it is so important that we work in common in order to stem the potential catastrophe that could result if we continue to see global warming continuing unabated."

But Merkel said that international organizations should not draft new regulations on financial systems and climate change at the expense of free trade. 

Merkel also spoke about the war in Afghanistan and Iran’s quest to acquire nuclear materials.

She said the West’s goal in Afghanistan should be to prevent terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks from again setting up strongholds there, a mission she said is "no doubt a tough one."

At the White House today, the president commended the “sacrifices of German soldiers in Afghanistan” and hailed “our common work there to bring peace and stability.”

On Iran, Merkel said that the west needs to show "zero tolerance" for those who threaten the security of other nations, such as Iran.

"A nuclear weapon in the hands of an Iranian president who denies the Holocaust ... who denies Israel's right to exist ... is not acceptable," she said."The security of the state of Israel is for me is non-negotiable, now and forever." 

She added that “we will be successful if we continue to travel this road together.”