- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009


DRESDEN, GERMANY — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech to the Muslim world “opened up the door to the Arab world again” and is “speeding” the Middle East peace process, pledging her country’s support for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Obama also announced that George Mitchell, his special envoy for the Middle East, will embark on another trip there next week with hopes of furthering action following his major address Thursday in Cairo.

“I think the moment is now for us to act on what we all know to be the truth, which is that each side is going to have to make some difficult compromises; we have to reject violence,” Mr. Obama said during a joint press conference from a Dresden castle built in the 13th century.

He also praised his administration’s commitment to the process the first five months of his presidency, adding he believes the early talks, speech and Mr. Mitchell’s assignment have laid the groundwork for making “serious progress this year.”

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“That’s sent a signal to all the parties in the Middle East that we are serious,” he said, offering a sentiment on which most scholars agree.

“Not only had talks ground to a halt, but there was a sense that all sides were getting so dug in and so cynical that you might reach a point where you could never get the parties back at the table,” Mr. Obama said of the peace process. “Given what we’ve done so far, we’ve at least created the space, the atmosphere, in which talks can restart.”

Ms. Merkel agreed, telling reporters the Cairo speech “will be an ideal basis for a lot of action of a positive nature, particularly as regards speeding of the peace process in the Middle East.”

Mr. Obama said it will take partnerships with Germany and others to help the United States engage in “frank dialogue” with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to “clear away some of the misunderstandings” since “ultimately, the United States can’t force peace upon the parties.”

He said he found the German leader a friend who always offers “intelligent analysis and straight talk.”

She offered similar praise for President George W. Bush’s successor, saying Mr. Obama offers “a unique opportunity” to revive the peace process.

“Yesterday’s speech in a way opened up also the door to the Arab world again,” she said, without directly criticizing Mr. Bush, whose eight years marked a time of dramatic unpopularity for the U.S. abroad.

“We need a two-state solution; we need a viable Palestinian state and a viable state of Israel, side by side,” Ms. Merkel said. “And whatever we can do in order to constructively accompany this along the way, we will gladly do.”

The presidential visit to this small town in eastern Germany nearly destroyed during World War II served as a pivot point from Mr. Obama’s trip to the Middle East.

After the press conference, he was bound for Buchenwald concentration camp with Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, whose father died at Buchenwald in 1945.

Mr. Obama said Dresden “has overcome great tragedies and is now this beautiful city full of hope,” and Ms. Merkel lauded the “highly symbolic” trip by the new president.

They also discussed the federal detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which the German government supports closing.

“We have not asked her for hard commitments, and she has not given us any hard commitments beyond having a serious discussion about are there ways that we can solve this problem,” Mr. Obama said.

Ms. Merkel said she is “absolutely confident” the tricky negotiations and “very intensive discussions” will result in the right solution for relocating the detainees.

Mr. Obama said European countries recognize the shared interest of both “battling extremists and terrorists” and “upholding broader principles of international justice.”

“We’ll be looking at individual cases; seeing are there people who can safely be transferred; if they are safely transferred, where would they be transferred to,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s going to take some time.”

• Christina Bellantoni can be reached at 125725@example.com.

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