Merkel faces new challenge on Washington ties
Angela Merkel moved swiftly to mend ties with Washington when she took power two years ago, forging a close bond with President George W. Bush over barbecues in eastern Germany and cosy White House dinners.
Small cracks are emerging in a relationship both sides have worked hard to nurture following the strains of the Iraq war.
On issues ranging from Iran's nuclear programme to Afghanistan, US missile shield plans and Kosovo, Ms Merkel's cautious, consensual approach has begun to grate in Washington, US diplomats say.
Meanwhile, the arrival of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose tough rhetoric on Iran and other big international issues underscores German timidity, has given the White House a new America-friendly European leader to work with.
"A lot of people are beginning to ask 'Where's the beef?'" a US diplomat, who requested anonymity, said of Ms Merkel. "She has brought a welcome change of tone, but on the policy front it is sometimes tough to see much difference to the (former Chancellor Gerhard) Schroeder government."
Berlin is currently resisting pressure from France and the US to adopt a new round of European sanctions against Iran if the UN Security Council fails to reach a consensus on more punitive measures this week.
For months, Germany has rebuffed US calls to send its troops to southern Afghanistan to fight a Taliban uprising. And earlier this year Washington tried in vain to persuade Ms Merkel to give strong public backing to US plans to deploy parts of a missile shield in central Europe.
On the burning issue of independence for breakaway Serbian province Kosovo, Germany has also avoided spelling out a clear line in the hopes of keeping a divided Europe together.
German officials acknowledge differences of opinion, but dismiss talk of any strains in the relationship between Berlin and Washington.
Ms Merkel and Mr Bush speak via secure video conference every two to three weeks. In their last conversation last Thursday, Mr Bush saluted Ms Merkel's leadership role in Europe, a senior adviser to the German chancellor, said.
"I am not aware of any complaints about Germany," he said. But Mr Sarkozy, and to a lesser extent new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have clearly raised the bar for Ms Merkel and diluted her position as Washington's go-to leader in Europe.
German historian and conservative commentator Michael Stuermer, writing in German newspaper Die Welt, described this shift as a major challenge for the German government.