BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will pay his second visit to Germany in as many months on Friday but media and politicians are convinced the brevity of his trip and decision to avoid Berlin amount to an embarrassing snub.
Obama is due to arrive in Germany on Thursday night but will stay less than 24 hours before heading to France’s Normandy beaches to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
He will not make it to the German capital, instead starting his visit in Dresden and then touring the Buchenwald concentration camp and U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl.
The White House appears to have rebuffed a request from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s team for a lengthy Dresden walkabout.
German media have been awash with speculation that Merkel is being punished for refusing to let Obama speak at the Brandenburg Gate last summer during his presidential campaign.
On the French leg, Obama will pass through Paris as well as Normandy.
“Washington does not see Germany as strategically important,” said Werner Hoyer, foreign policy expert for the liberal Free Democrats.
Merkel’s spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm has rejected suggestions of a snub.
“The Chancellor is very pleased the president is showing an interest in former East Germany and that the visit starts in Dresden,” he said.
Dresden, largely rebuilt in its baroque style after British and U.S. bombers destroyed it in the last months of World War Two, has become a symbol of recovery. The city was also in the heart of communist East Germany, where Merkel grew up.
But the program has raised questions about the chemistry between the low-key Merkel and Obama, whose powerful oratory skills and easy manner charm crowds.
Unlike other European leaders such as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Merkel has not yet visited Obama in Washington.
German officials have described White House planning of the trip as “unorthodox” and suggested that logistics were more efficient under Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush, with whom Merkel had a close relationship.
German expectations were high that Obama would usher in a new era of U.S.-German ties after the deep rifts over the Iraq war and among the population he remains highly popular.
Dresden is decked out in placards “Ich bin ein Dresdner,” echoing the “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech by former U.S. President John F. Kennedy in West Berlin in 1963.
But relations between Washington and Berlin have been less than smooth since Obama took office in January.
Germany’s reluctance to take inmates from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay has grated in Washington, officials say, as has Merkel’s refusal to bolster the German troop contingent in Afghanistan.
Last week, German ministers expressed frustration over the U.S. approach to talks on the future of carmaker Opel, describing Washington’s stance as “scandalous” and “unhelpful.”
That rhetoric subsided somewhat after Obama spoke with Merkel and helped seal a rescue of the carmaker.
Writing by Madeline Chambers; editing by Noah Barkin