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German minister heads to Washington amid growing US critiques
[BERLIN] Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Wednesday announced plans to visit Washington and shore up ties with Germany's closest ally outside Europe, days after a key aide to US President Donald Trump launched fresh attacks on Berlin's policies.
Mr Gabriel said he looked forward to a "good, open and friendly" dialogue with Rex Tillerson, confirmed as Mr Trump's secretary of State on Wednesday by the US Senate, and said Germany was seeking answers about the new US administration's foreign policies, its relationship to the Nato alliance and other key issues.
"The world will not wait for us. There are urgent issues on the global agenda about which Germany and America, as well as Europe and America, should be closely coordinating," Mr Gabriel said in a statement.
"The friendship between two countries is far more than a beneficial cooperation between governments, but without good and trustworthy relations between those governments, it will not go well," said Mr Gabriel, who also serves as vice-chancellor.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the go-to European ally for former US President Barack Obama, who praised her as "an outstanding partner" on a farewell visit to Berlin in November, but the relationship has deteriorated markedly under Mr Trump.
Last month, Mr Trump said Mrs Merkel made a "catastrophic mistake" with her open-door refugee policy. This week, his top trade adviser said Germany was using a "grossly undervalued" euro to gain advantage over the United States and its European partners .
Mrs Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert, asked about attacks from Washington, on Wednesday described the German-American relationship as a deep "historical friendship between two peoples".
Pressed to comment about Mr Trump's attacks on Germany's migrant and trade policies, and the euro, Mr Seibert told a regular government news conference: "We are at the very beginning of the cooperation with a new American government."
Ingo Kramer, president of the Federation of German Employers, told industry executives today that Mr Trump's actions and words were unsettling, but he hoped that Washington would not continue with its "retreat from the rest of the world".
Gero Neugebauer, a Berlin-based political expert, said a barrage of critiques from Mr Trump had forced Mrs Merkel to abandon her plan to refrain from public remarks about Mr Trump.
"Merkel has no choice but to step into the breach and stand up for German interests regardless of how great her desire for cooperation," he said.
Mrs Merkel's government has offered to visit the United States in the spring in her capacity as chairman of the G20 group of leading economies, government sources have said.
Mr Trump has accepted an invitation to come to a G20 summit that Mrs Merkel will host in Hamburg in early July, and on Saturday said he looked forward to welcoming Mrs Merkel to Washington soon.
The pair issued a positive statement after speaking by telephone on Saturday about Nato, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, their ties to Russia and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
But Mrs Merkel later sharply criticised Mr Trump's travel ban on refugees and people from Muslim-majority countries.
Mr Seibert told Wednesday's news conference there were clearly differences between the two leaders.
"It was clear before this (telephone) conversation that there were differences between the new president and the chancellor, or the (German) government," he said.
"And we will represent our beliefs to this American government."