WASHINGTON — 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 the nature of those disagreements behind closed doors.
At a joint press conference following their morning meeting in the Oval Office, Obama said he was “very encouraged about the extent to which we’ve been able to maintain U.S.-European unity on this issue.”
“We are in absolute agreement that the 21st century cannot have us stand idle and allow the borders of Europe to be redrawn by the barrel of a gun,” Obama said. But then he also suggested that there may be “tactical disagreements” about what happens if diplomatic efforts fail.
Those disagreements stem from the possibility of military aid to Ukraine to fend off pro-Russian separatists. “The possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those options that’s being examined,” Obama said. Merkel opposes that course.
Both Obama and Merkel said no decision has been made about military options.
“I’ve always said I don’t see a military solution in this conflict, but we have to put all our efforts behind a diplomatic solution,” Merkel said, speaking in German. “But if, at a certain point in time, one has to say that a success is not possible, even if one puts every effort into it, then the United States and Europe have to sit together and try and explore further possibilities, what one can do.”
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.