April 9, 2010 / 12:46 PM / 9 years ago

Merkel heads to U.S. with eye on Iran, local vote

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel travels to the United States for a four-day trip Monday aiming to address Iran’s nuclear program and burnish her global credentials ahead of a crucial regional election in Germany.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel waves to tourists as she leaves the Blue Mosque during a visit to the old city of Istanbul March 30, 2010. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Merkel aims to help build consensus over nuclear security at an April 12-13 summit in Washington hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama, then head west, where she is due to visit Hollywood, businesses and leading universities in California.

Government officials say efforts to reach agreement on sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program are likely to feature prominently in Merkel’s talks with world leaders in Washington.

Her ruling coalition has also been debating whether Germany could accept inmates from the U.S. camp in Guantanamo Bay, and media reports suggested Merkel might discuss this with Obama.

Political scientist Hans Vorlaender of the University of Dresden said the United States would serve as a stage for Merkel to play to her home audience in the run-up to the May 9 vote in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany’s most populous state.

The fact that Obama had recently chalked up successes such as a bill on health reform and a landmark deal on disarmament with Russia, could only help Merkel, Vorlaender added.

“She wants to shine as a global politician and some of the glow surrounding Obama’s recent achievements should wash off,” he said. “So this will be a meeting of two power brokers.”

Merkel’s coalition of conservatives and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) must hold NRW on May 9 to retain their majority in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament.

Recent polls suggest the pairing will struggle to win a majority in NRW. Failure to do so could jeopardize key planks of the coalition’s national electoral manifesto, such as planned tax cuts and a reform of the cash-strapped health system.

ANNIVERSARY

Merkel, 55, who grew up in Communist East Germany and first visited the United States two decades ago, will then fly on Tuesday evening to California, where she is due to be greeted by the state’s Austrian-born governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The 20th anniversary of that visit also coincides with 20 years of German reunification, and the 10th anniversary of Merkel’s leadership of the Christian Democrats (CDU).

“So this trip also has quite a symbolic character,” said Vorlaender. “It will serve to underline Merkel’s commitment to the west in general — quite apart from offering her a breather from the problems Europe is facing.”

Merkel’s California stay will chiefly be spent flitting between business meetings with German firms like software maker SAP and Bayer Health Care, trips to universities Stanford and Berkeley, and a visit to Warner Bros film studios Wednesday.

Vorlaender said her trip to a U.S. state with a reputation as a center for renewable technologies might play well with supporters of Germany’s Green party.

Polls suggest Merkel’s CDU could be forced to seek an alliance with the Greens in NRW. The CDU is in coalition with the Greens in two states.

Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke; editing by Andrew Roche

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