November 4, 2009 2:00 am
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, thanked the US yesterday for its help in overcoming her country's postwar divisions and urged it to work with Europe to address the challenges of the future.
In the first speech by a German chancellor before the joint houses of Congress since Konrad Adenauer spoke there in 1957, Ms Merkel drew an arc between the end of the cold war and the need to tackle today's threats - from economic turbulences to global warming, international terrorism and a nuclear-armed Iran.
The invitation was an unexpected honour. Although a robust advocate of strong transatlantic relations, Ms Merkel has been guarded in her contact with Barack Obama, the US president, and has clashed with Washington over economic policy in the past year.
In one of her most emotional speeches since the former East German physicist turned to politics after the collapse of communist East Germany in 1989, Ms Merkel thanked the US presidents, from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, who she said had supported the West German government during the cold war.
"Twenty years ago, even travelling to the US, let alone standing here today, would have been beyond my imagination," she said. "We know how much we owe you and we will, I will never forget this."
Days before world leaders gather in Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9 1989, Ms Merkel also recalled the night of November 9 1938, when Nazi militias attacked synagogues and Jewish businesses across Germany.
"I cannot stand here today without remembering the victims of the Shoah," Ms Merkel said.
Although German commentators expressed surprise at the chancellor's omission of the US decisive role in ending the second world war and freeing Germany from the Nazis, Ms Merkel thanked the 16m US soldiers who had served in the various US bases in Germany.
"We support the presence of US soldiers on our soil," said Ms Merkel, whose government, formed last week, has said it would seek the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons stationed in Germany. She called on the US and Europe, two partners bound by "common values", to build a "world economic order" to prevent future global financial crises.
"A global economy needs a global legal framework," she said. "Lack of transparency and control do not lead to more freedom but to the abuse of freedom and to instability." She struck a tough note on Iran and reaffirmed Germany's position as a strong ally of Israel.
"A president [Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran] who denies the Holocaust, threatens Israel and does not recognise its right to exist cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons," Ms Merkel said.
She urged the US and Europe to work hand in hand at the United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen next month. There would be no deal on capping emissions without a commitment by China and India, she said.
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