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“I wish Barack Obama a sure hand”

The Federal Government Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation, Harald Leibrecht, in an interview with Deutschlandfunk on the election results in the United States. Broadcast on 7 November 2012.

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In Berlin, let me welcome Harald Leibrecht, member of the German Bundestag for the FDP and Federal Government Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation. Good morning.

Good morning, Ms Klein.

Mr Leibrecht, a few days ago you said you thought that if everything went smoothly, we would have the results at five, but that it could possibly turn out to be a long morning. Are you happy that the results are now in?

Yes, of course I’m happy that in the end we have a very clear outcome and I am of course happy that Barack Obama has been re‑elected. I wish him a sure hand for the coming years, all the best and every success.

Was the United States lucky not to get Mitt Romney as President?

You can’t put it that way. I think that Obama is very popular here in Germany and that his standing in the opinion polls has shown this. But maybe that is also because we Germans do not necessarily follow domestic politics in America. Obama also has many, many supporters in the United States. Just a few hours ago there was still a lot suspense and it was not clear who was going to be the next President. That shows that Mitt Romney also had many, many supporters.

Mr Leibrecht, four years ago the Germans were extremely excited about Barack Obama. The disappointment set in, I would say, around half a year later. In spite of the criticism towards him, almost all of them would have voted for him again. When will the next disappointment hit the Germans?

It is not necessary for there to be any disappointment. I think that now that he has been re‑elected and does not have to go through another campaign, President Obama will be even bolder in his second term, also in his own country. He wants further social reforms. He doesn’t want to stop at health care. But I can also imagine that he is also more likely to tackle some foreign policy issues. My own personal wish in terms of questions of trade and economic policy would be for us to start talks on a transatlantic free trade area.

Apart from that, where do you wish to see concrete changes in transatlantic relations?

First of all, I would like to see us take advantage of the good relations we enjoy – and despite all the dire pronouncements we have heard, I still think that relations are very good. And even if Obama does not visit Germany every time he is in Europe, I do not see that as negative, but quite the opposite. I see it rather as proof that the relationship is working out well and that we do not have to keep visiting each other all the time. I am very convinced that the German Government works extremely well with the United States, also with Obama personally and that the political relationship between Chancellor Merkel and Obama is very, very good and very constructive.

What decision do you hope that the re‑elected President takes first? Where should he put his foot down first when we look at foreign policy issues, at trouble spots such as Syria, Iran and other countries?

I think he will stick with his foreign policy. Of course we are worried about Iran’s nuclear programme. On the other hand, we can see that the sanctions are now having the desired effect and that it was good for Europe and the United States to have been pulling together on that issue. That is important. The same is true in Syria. There, too, sanctions are effective and support for the resistance is working.

But it does not change the situation at all. There is a stalemate now in Syria.

But I do not think that President Obama will want to move forward with more force now. In particular, he will consider military action very carefully. I rather doubt it will come to that in this case.

Maybe just one more thing, Mr Leibrecht. We have always said, when talking about Iran, when talking about Israel and whether there will be a military strike because Iran might acquire an atomic bomb, that certainly nothing will happen until after the presidential elections. It is said that Israel had agreed not to do anything to force the issue. Do you think that it is possible that this will happen now that the elections are over?

No. The threat from Iran is of course real and it is – we must say this clearly – not only a threat to Israel, but to the West as a whole, also for us here in Europe. So the situation is serious. But we must do everything we can to resolve this conflict through diplomacy and not resort to other means.

That was a preliminary assessment of Barack Obama’s election victory by Harald Leibrecht, the Federal Government Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation. Thank you.

Questions: Bettina Klein. Reproduced here by kind permission of Deutschlandfunk.