PRESIDENT Bill Clinton yesterday spoke of a 'truly unique relationship' between Germany and the United States, and implied that the 'special relationship' between Britain and the US was, in effect, a part of history.
Germany, said Mr Clinton, has a 'more immediate and tangible concern' with the key issues in Europe today - most notably, the problems in Russia and eastern Europe. 'So many of our challenges are just to Germany's east,' he said, after meeting Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn yesterday. These themes are more important for Germany and America, he suggested, than for 'our other friends in Europe'.
Britain would remain special to America because of distant historical links. 'The relationship we have with the UK goes back to our founding . . . We grew out of them,' he said.
Now, however, Germany and America share a unique 'sense of common partnership'. Mr Clinton, the first American president of the post-war generation, described what Germany and the US have been through since 1945 as 'astonishing . . . Historians will look back and marvel at what happened in the aftermath of that awful war.'
He was speaking at the start of a two-day visit to Germany, the first by an American president since German unity four years ago. Britain's relationship with the US has never before been so explicitly relegated to second place.
Mr Clinton's commitment to a strongly united Europe was emphasised in comments he made before leaving Washington last week. It means that Britain, which is widely seen as being only marginal to the development of European unity, is no longer of crucial importance.
President Clinton is due to speak at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin today, in what is billed by his officials as a 'historic' speech. The emphasis will almost certainly be eastwards.
Offering another explanation of why America is turning away from the country with which it has enjoyed such a close military alliance, Mr Clinton argued: 'Trade, as much as troops, will increasingly define the ties that bind nations in the 21st century.'
Mr Kohl spoke of how much 'friendship and partnership with the United States mean to us here in Germany'. For more than 40 years, Mr Kohl said, America 'defended freedom and peace, and secured it for us here'. He said it was of 'tremendous importance' that co-operation should continue.
The President suggested that he and his host 'hold our offices at a moment of historic opportunity'. The German leg of Mr Clinton's trip comes after visits to the Latvian capital, Riga, and to Poland, emphasising the East European context.
In Berlin he is, in effect, seeking to tread in the footsteps of President John Kennedy, and his famous 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech. Kennedy's speech addressed the American role in defending the West in a divided Europe. Mr Clinton will seek to outline a role for America in mapping out a path for the new Europe.
A decision from Germany's constitutional court is due today, which is expected to give the green light for German troops to take part in United Nations missions in future, subject to the approval of Germany's parliament.
Mr Clinton noted: 'Anything that can be done to enable Germany to fulfil the leadership responsibilities that it is plainly capable of fulfilling is a positive thing.'
Chancellor Kohl, too, emphasised his belief that German participation in such missions has become essential. 'When things get a bit rough we cannot simply sit back and let others do the work,' he said.
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