Deutschlandfunk interviews Harald Leibrecht, Federal Government Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation, about the attacks in the U.S. and the state of German-American relations.Broadcast on 18 April 2013.
First two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, then letters containing poison were sent to U.S. politicians like in 2001.Is there a connection between these two events?This is one of many questions being posed right now.Yesterday evening the police were said to have arrested a suspect in the attacks on Boston.This was later denied, and a press conference was called, then cancelled – there was certainly some back and forth going on.
On the telephone in Berlin, let me welcome Harald Leibrecht, member of the German Bundestag for the FDP and Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation at the Federal Foreign Office.Good morning, Mr Leibrecht.
Good morning, Mr Meurer.
“Only” three people were killed in Boston, not 3000 like twelve years ago on 11 September 2001. Nonetheless, how heavily did the two bombs of the attacker or attackers affect the U.S.?What do you think?
First of all, I am of course, like all Germans, deeply shocked and saddened at the terrible attacks in Boston, and I was especially shaken that a sporting event so steeped in tradition, which should have been such a joyous occasion, has now become the site of a terrorist attack. Of course, these bombs have also dredged up memories of September 11th. Nonetheless, at this point we need to be cautious and must not speculate about whether these two terrorist attacks ultimately have anything to do with each other.
Back in the days after 11 September 2001 we Germans were initially full of sympathy.Then later everything drifted apart.Has terrorism moved the U.S. and Europe, the U.S. and Germany, further apart from each other?
No, I don’t see it that way. If we just look at how affected the German public is by this attack, it shows how close to us America is, and Boston in particular is a city where the European influence and the closeness of our transatlantic ties are especially palpable. For me in my daily work with Americans this shows that we Germans, we Europeans, currently enjoy very good relations with the Americans, and that such monstrous attacks actually tend to bring us closer together.
This may be true at the political level, Mr Leibrecht.But don’t the German people see the U.S. as gripped by a kind of security paranoia?
The fact that this is the first such act of terror to take place on U.S. soil since September 11th has to be taken into consideration. Of course we’re always astounded at how much the Americans tend to seal themselves off in terms of security policy, or always introduce new laws and make everything even stricter. On the other hand, when the shadow of terror hangs over a country, the government and public have to be able to react, and of course these strict terror laws might be completely necessary. There are some things we’d certainly do differently, but of course I can thoroughly understand the reaction from the American side.
But they have the effect, for example, that travel to the U.S. has become more difficult: endless waiting at airports, transmission of all data about us, bank account information and much more.It’s become more complicated and difficult to get visas.Hasn’t distance been created?
Of course, we are keeping in close contact with our American partners to continually reassess the extent to which these security measures make sense and are right as well as the extent to which they ultimately actually reduce our freedom and the freedom of the American public. But as I said, I can of course understand that now, especially after these attacks, the American authorities are reacting very swiftly and things are being monitored even more strictly.
Mr Leibrecht, in September you will be leaving your post, as will the long-time foreign policy veterans Ruprecht Polenz and Hans Ulrich Klose. Are you concerned about whether the German-American relationship will become indifferent?
I don’t think it will become indifferent. The most recent visits by Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry once again demonstrated and reaffirmed that the Americans regard Germany as one of their closest allies in Europe and in the world, and that they are also interested in talking to us. I think that especially these most recent visits, as well as the potential visit to Germany by President Obama, underscore that Germany is definitely an important interlocutor and political partner for the United States. In my opinion, German-American relations are currently very good.
How likely is it that U.S. President Barack Obama will come to Berlin in June?
At the moment everything is still somewhat in the realm of speculation. I hope he will come by summer. That would be good. There are opportunities, the G8 summit and other occasions, for him to take a side trip to Germany. I would hope for that very much, as it would send a very positive signal if Obama visited our country now, after his re election.
And it would be very fitting historically.It was 50 years ago, in June 1963, that John F. Kennedy held his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in Berlin.Is this also the backdrop for a possible visit?
That could be a wonderful backdrop. Of course we have a great deal to be grateful to the Americans for, especially in the post war period, that our country was able to rebuild after the destruction and terror of the Third Reich, that it was able to develop economically and prosper. In very large part we owe this to the Americans. And if such an anniversary is an occasion for an American President to come to Germany, of course I would absolutely welcome that very much.
Mr Leibrecht, you claim that everything is OK.Why has Barack Obama thus far steered clear of Germany?
I myself have never seen that as negative. Mutual visits are certainly good and also very important, but they aren’t absolutely necessary to coordinate day to day politics with one another. In Obama’s first term there were a lot of problems in the world that he also dealt with. We in the German Government are in very close contact with him and his Government, so such visits are not necessarily essential. Of course we’d be delighted if he came here, no doubt, but…
And if he doesn’t come, people will say right away that Obama’s relationship with Merkel isn’t good.
But the relationship between Chancellor Merkel and Obama is good! This was reflected, not least, in the awarding of the Medal of Peace to Chancellor Merkel: this was not only a major distinction for the Chancellor but also an expression of admiration for the German people.
Harald Leibrecht, Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation at the Federal Foreign Office and member of the German Bundestag for the FDP, on a potential visit to Germany in June by US President Barack Obama and on the consequences of the attack on the Boston Marathon.Mr Leibrecht, thank you and good bye.
Good bye, Mr Meurer.
Interview conducted by Friedbert Meurer. Reproduced by kind permission of Deutschlandfunk.