Of all the goodbyes President Barack Obama must say on his final foreign trip as commander in chief, one of the hardest is likely to be to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
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The White House singles out Merkel as Obama’s closest foreign partner, with the two having worked side by side over the course of his eight years as president.
“They’ve worked together on almost every issue. They’ve developed a deep mutual respect, I think, and close friendship as well,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in a conference call last week.
That friendship is part of the reason Obama made Germany, which he has already visited five times as president, the second stop on his international trip. “He wanted to see Chancellor Merkel one more time to thank her for her partnership and leadership,” Rhodes said.
The two leaders, who will meet Thursday, have been important political allies, with Obama even taking the unusual step of wading into German politics to offer his support for Merkel as she faced political blowback for accepting into Germany large numbers of refugees fleeing civil war in Syria.
He stood by her side in Germany earlier this year to applaud her moral courage and declare her to be on the “right side of history.”
“She is giving voice, I think, to the kinds of principles that bring people together rather than divide them, and I’m very proud of her for that, and I’m proud of the German people for that,” Obama said on trip to Germany earlier this year.
It’s unclear whether the chummy relations now enjoyed between the leaders of United States and Germany will continue with the election of Donald Trump, who vocally criticized Merkel during his presidential campaign.
Trump accused Merkel of “ruining Germany” by receiving a large number of Syrian refugees and even invoked her to attack his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, saying that Clinton would be “America’s Merkel.”
He has more recently softened his tone on Merkel, saying she is a great world leader, with the exception of “the whole immigration thing.”
After his victory last week, she offered only tepid congratulations, qualifying Berlin’s continued cooperation with Washington on shared values.
“Germany and America are bound by their values — democracy, freedom, the respect for the law and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position,” Merkel said. “On the basis of these values, I offer the future president of the United States, Donald Trump, close cooperation.”