President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are setting aside their differences to put on a show of unity in the face of the growing crisis in Ukraine. Merkel, according to the Associated Press, will visit the White House Friday to hold meetings, attend a working lunch and hold a joint press conference with the president.
Relations between the two leaders chilled over six months ago after it was revealed, through a series of leaks, that the National Security Agency was monitoring communications on Merkel’s cellphone. The Hill reports that Merkel called the spying “completely unacceptable” and even confronted Obama at the time.
This is Merkel’s first trip to the White House since that scandal broke. The visit comes as Merkel emerges as the key line of communication between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the United States.
In the face of mounting economic sanctions from the U.S., Putin has shown little willingness to curb his interference in the affairs of Ukraine. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula last month.
Stefan Meister, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Bloomberg News that Ukraine has provided an opportunity for the leaders to mend the relationship.
“Ukraine has significantly reduced the pressures on Merkel and Obama stemming from the NSA affair, which helps both of them,” he said, adding that the two leaders will be looking for a “signal of unity.”
European countries, who have close economic ties to Russia, have been slow to impose tough economic sanctions on the country. But many believe the revitalized relationship with President Obama and Friday’s visit may allow an opening for Merkel to make the case in Europe that the time for tough sanctions has come.
Heather Conley, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told NBC News that Merkel could come out of this visit with a strong message for the German people and for Europe.
“We’ve been in this throat-clearing stage. Now we’re going to have to be a little more demonstrative of ‘We actually do mean this,’” she said. “This is going to be very, very difficult for Europe.”
Difficult or not, the Obama administration believes such a unified approach stands a better chance to de-escalate the crisis.