On Tuesday, the Washington Examiner interviewed Germany's ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig. Yesterday, we published interview excerpts concerning Germany's trading relationship with the United States. Today, we look at Germany's attitude toward the Trump-Russia saga and Brexit. My perception of the ambassador's key points are in bold.
Washington Examiner: What do you think German intelligence officers would tell Chancellor Merkel if she asked them, ‘What's going on with President Trump and Russia?'
Wittig: I'm not privy to intelligence briefings, so I can't really answer your question there. The chancellor and president had an exchange on Russia during their meeting at the White House. I think both of our leaders agree that Russia matters in the international scene, and we're working to enlarge our common efforts. We have an interest to integrate Russia in the international system.
Washington Examiner: One follow-up. Do you believe the BfV or BND (German Intelligence Services) will come up at any point in any reporting on meetings of Americans and Russians in Europe?
Wittig: This is not my job: to delve into the intelligence world.
Analysis: Note the discomfort to talk about intelligence issues. Normally that would be understandable, but non-denials are not the obvious answer here. The ambassador could simply have said ''no'.' And perhaps the ambassador truly doesn't know what German intelligence thinks. Or perhaps he knows that Germany has collected intelligence on Trump affiliates in their visits to Western Europe. We can't say. Still, this is another example of the fact that the Trump-Russia story has global reach and implications. U.S. allies believe they are dancing on thin ice.
Washington Examiner: What do you think would be the best outcome for the European Union, in terms of the broad parameters of the Brexit negotiations?
Wittig: We've always said we deplore the decision of British voters to leave the European Union, but we accept it. We are losing not only the second-biggest economy in Europe; we are losing a great friend and a great partner as an important pillar of the European Union. We will not lose our great friend and great partner as a close ally in Europe. And we will do what it takes to maintain a close relationship with the U.K. in trade, political relations and military cooperation. Yet we have an interest in not weakening the other 27 member states. It's going to be a challenging process of negotiations. We hope that it will end in an outcome that is beneficial for both sides, but let me also say that it's hard to believe that it will be beneficial economically and politically to all of us. It will have repercussions, not only on the U.K. but to all of us.
Analysis: The negotiations over Britain's exit from the European Union are going to be very tough. But as with France, Germany doesn't want to be seen as publicly vindictive. The problem for Britain, however, is that both France and Germany are desperate to prevent any other EU member from following the U.K.'s example. To that end, they want to set a precedent that exiting the union is always going to be a painful endeavor.
Washington Examiner: The Trump administration has yet to fill many political appointee positions. Has that been a problem for your diplomats in finding the right people to talk to?
Wittig: My government has been treated well and fairly in terms of access to the administration. I think we have to remind ourselves all the time that transitions carry hiccups. That's not something unique. I just hope the administration will be successful in manning all the positions. But our daily work has not been impeded.
Analysis: The Trump administration has been slow in manning vacant positions at the Departments of State and Defense. This makes diplomatic liasion difficult for foreign embassies. Yet in contrast to the attitudes of other diplomatic delegations, such as that of France, the Germans seem unconcerned.
Washington Examiner: Where in Germany would you encourage Americans to visit?
Wittig: The strength of our country is not the capital. I love Berlin; it is my home. I would always recommend a visit: it's a living museum. But we have close to 40 opera houses across the country. So opera lovers could spend weeks and months in Germany popping from one opera to the other! Germany has a multifaceted cultural landscape: museums, orchestras. That's the strength of our country. I would recommend Americans go deep into the country!
Analysis: I would have suggested hiking. And beer. Or both.
Conclusion: Germany is definitively unsure about what to make of Trump's agenda and inclinations, but one thing seems clear: Germany wants close relations with the United States, but they miss former President Barack Obama.