Obama meets Merkel at start of Germany visit

June 5th, 2009 - 3:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Dresden (Germany), June 5 (DPA) US President Barack Obama met German Chancellor Angela Merkel Friday at the start of a brief visit to Germany.
The meeting took place in Dresden, a city in the east of the country where Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin once served as a Soviet KGB agent.

Merkel welcomed Obama at his hotel in the centre of town and strolled with him to the Gruenes Gewoelbe (Green Vault), a museum that contains the largest collection of treasures in Europe.

After their meeting the two leaders were due to inspect another of the city’s cultural treasures, the Frauenkirche church, before visiting the former Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald.

While Buchenwald is a reminder of German shame, the Frauenkirche, once wrecked by Allied bombing and rebuilt with worldwide donations, is a symbol of reconciliation following World War II.

For Merkel personally, the church is a reminder of Germany’s successful reunification.

The visit to the former Nazi concentration camp was not proposed by the Germans, but by the White House, apparently as a gesture of balance in the Arab-Israeli conflict after Obama’s Thursday speech in Cairo calling for a fresh start in relations with the Muslim world.

By visiting Buchenwald, Obama can show Jews that the Holocaust is not forgotten and that the US will always speak out against those with malign intentions towards Israel.

The Mideast peace process was expected to figure prominently in the talks between Obama and Merkel.

The US president arrived in Dresden on Thursday evening for a packed 24-hour visit that will also see him tour the US military hospital in Landstuhl to meet American soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is Obama’s second visit in 10 weeks after previously attending a NATO summit jointly hosted by Germany and France at the beginning of April.

At Buchenwald, Merkel and the US president plan to meet Holocaust survivors, notably Jewish writer and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.

The idea for the visit is believed to have come from a meeting Obama had with Wiesel, who survived Buchenwald and has written extensively about the Holocaust.

By the end of World War II, Buchenwald was the largest Nazi concentration camp on German soil. Around 56,000 prisoners died through execution or maltreatment before the camp was liberated by US forces in April 1945. It is now a memorial.

Obama’s great-uncle, Charles Payne, was amongst the soldiers who liberated a subsidiary camp of Buchenwald April 5, 1945.

From Germany, Obama travels to France where he will attend ceremonies in Normandy Saturday marking the 65th anniversary of the Allied D-Day landings.

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