Obama, Merkel hint at disagreements on Ukraine
President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel presented a united front against Russia in talks at the White House Monday, saying they would continue to mount diplomatic and economic pressure to get Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. There were hints of disagreements about what the strategy might be if those efforts fail, but both leaders kept those disagreements behind closed doors.
At joint press conference, Obama said he was “very encouraged about the extent to which we’ve been able to maintain U.S.-European unity on this issue.” But then he also suggested that there may be “tactical disagreements” going forward. Those disagreements stem from the possibility of military aid to Ukraine to fend off pro-Russian separatists. Merkel opposes that course; but both she and Obama said no decision has been made about that option.
The meeting comes amid a whirlwind of airplane diplomacy among NATO powers Ukraine and Russia. With talks in Munich and Kiev unable to forge a diplomatic solution last week, the two sides announced a new summit Wednesday in Minsk. But other issues were also on the agenda. Obama focused largely on security concerns: Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran and the Islamic State. Merkel opened her remarks by talking about trade and economics.
The press conference followed a morning meeting in the Oval Office with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, national security adviser Susan Rice and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. Also on the schedule Monday: a “working lunch” with Obama, Merkel and Biden.