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White House Take On Obama's Call To Merkel Is Hilariously Understated

Is this more awkward than a surprise presidential shoulder rub? You be the judge.
phone call

Not since President George W. Bush hit German Chancellor Angela Merkel with an impromptu double-Vulcan-neck-pinch has there been such an awkward moment in U.S. relations with Germany. Things were already strained after Edward Snowden's revelation that the U.S. monitored Merkel's cellphone communications, but they went from bad to worse last week when two more cases of alleged U.S. spying on Germany were revealed, and the Germans ordered the CIA station chief to leave the country.

Reports of arrests in those most recent cases emerged the day after President Obama's last phone call with Merkel, and since then, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has been fielding a steady stream of questions about the incident, cutting around them with micro-surgical precision. Unable to even confirm the expulsion of the CIA station chief, Earnest has basically had to say a whole lot of nothing.

Finally, this week, President Obama had a chance to speak with Chancellor Merkel by telephone, the first time (that we know of) since this latest flare-up. The White House press office provides reporters with official readouts of these types of calls, and while these readouts are never exactly candid, this one was priceless in its bland PR-speak and burying of the lede. After a couple of long paragraphs about Ukraine and Iran, there was this little bit tacked on at the end (emphasis mine):

The President and the Chancellor also exchanged views on U.S.-German intelligence cooperation, and the President said he’d remain in close communication on ways to improve cooperation going forward.

Exchanged views, did they? On U.S.-German intelligence cooperation? Is that sort of like how Tom ans Jerry had productive interactions regarding feline-rodential relations?

At yesterday's White House daily briefing, Earnest was asked to elaborate on that readout, and while he didn't have a lot to add, he did reveal that the President took the opportunity to congratulate Chancellor Merkel on Germany's World Cup win, and described the tone of the call as "friendly and cordial," so that's nice:

This is not necessarily complete horseshit, because as has been noted by our editors, no world leader is under any illusions about the spying operations of other countries, a fact which Earnest, even under the considerable constraints of this situation, alluded to last week when he told CNN's Michelle Kosinski that "allies with sophisticated intelligence agencies like the United States and Germany understand with some degree of detail exactly what those intelligence relationships and activities entail."

Additionally, Earnest made a point of noting the "strong personal relationship" the two leaders enjoy, which is at least partly due to President Obama's considerable facility for personal likability. It's quite possible that this, and a little "spies gonna spy," got him over.

Here's the full text of the readout, via email from The White House:

Readout of the President’s Call with Chancellor Merkel of Germany

The President spoke today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the situation in Ukraine, the ongoing P5+1 talks with Iran in Vienna, and U.S.-German bilateral relations.

On Ukraine, the President and the Chancellor reiterated their agreement that Russia must take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine amid the ongoing violence there – including by supporting a bilateral ceasefire, a roadmap for talks under the OSCE-mediated contact group, and the establishment of an OSCE border monitoring mechanism, as well as by urging the separatists to release all hostages they hold and ending the flow of heavy weapons, equipment, and fighters from Russia to separatists. The leaders agreed that to date neither the United States nor Germany has seen Russia fulfill these required actions. The President and the Chancellor reaffirmed their commitment to work together with other allies to ensure that Europe and the United States remain closely coordinated on measures to impose costs on Russia, as necessary, as well as to continue to support Ukraine’s long-term stability and prosperity.

On P5+1 talks with Iran, the two leaders reviewed the progress that has been made in the negotiations, while noting that important gaps still remain. They agreed it is imperative that Iran take the necessary steps to assure the international community that its nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful.

The President and the Chancellor also exchanged views on U.S.-German intelligence cooperation, and the President said he’d remain in close communication on ways to improve cooperation going forward.