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Press Conference at the U.S. Embassy

Remarks by Ambassador Timken
Berlin, September 6, 2005


Guten Morgen, meine Damen und Herren, Willkommen.
Let me first start by saying that I am honored that President Bush asked me to serve as the American Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany.

Yesterday I passed on a letter from the President addressed to Chancellor Schroeder, thanking the German people and the German government, on behalf of all Americans, for their assistance in the ongoing relief efforts in the wake of the devastation caused by the Hurricane Katrina, which is the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States. Residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast states affected by the hurricane have lost loved ones, lost their homes, their jobs, and been displaced from their communities. For my part, I have spent a great deal of time in New Orleans and I know the city very well; and I therefore personally appreciate the compassion that the countries around the world have shown in offering their assistance.

On Sunday, I met with State Secretary Steinmeier at the Chancellery to discuss the needs on the ground, on-site, in the disaster area as communicated to us by the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA staff, and the options that were proposed at that time by the German government. We are working out the details. Victims are, however, already consuming the food that was flown in by the Bundeswehr on the weekend.

I would especially like to thank the German people for their pledges of support and for the sincere and heartfelt condolences that we have received at the Embassy and at all of our consulates around the country. That support is evidence of the depth and the strength of our relationship. The German-American relationship was forged into one of the most important bilateral partnerships in modern history during the long years of the Cold War, but it has been influenced by centuries of immigration and mutual cultural and economic ties.

As many of you know, I am one of those 40 million Americans with German ancestry. And as you may also know, I am an American businessman with first-hand experience in the transatlantic business community. Early in my business career, I dealt extensively with Europe – working closely on a daily basis with the network of employees of the Timken affiliates throughout Europe. In the process, I learned much about the rich and varied cultures, institutions and the lifestyles that make up Europe.

I also learned, from my experience in the company that my great-grandfather, a farm boy from the Bremen area, founded, that transatlantic economic and business ties are dynamic, mutually beneficial, and almost by definition, based on ongoing innovation and opportunity. In the 1890s, my great-grandfather Henry Timken was head of the nation-wide trade association of the carriage industry. The new company he established in 1899 was the result of his ability to transition technology and recognize the “paradigm shift” from the era of the horse-drawn carriage to the horseless carriages, or, as we know them today, automobiles.

A century later, I chaired the National Association of Manufacturers in America. My chief priority was to get the message out about the crucial role played by manufacturing in fostering innovation, implementing new technology, and in reacting to the paradigm shifts that may come once in a century, once in a generation, or once in a decade.

As times change, as things change, sifting through strong traditions to determine which are the core strengths and which are simply old, is an ongoing challenge, but there are basic values. The values, for example, that my grandfather passed on to the Timken Company still belong to our family and to our corporate traditions. Those values include respect for people, perseverance, hard work, achievement, loyalty, responsibility and commitment; and they include innovation, boldness, independence and leadership. They do indeed represent core strengths. I believe that these are the common values that are at the foundation of the German-American partnership.

If I could sum those values up in two words, they would be continuity and change. Over the past 50 years, the United States and Germany have forged a strong and effective partnership that has contributed greatly to the peace and security of Europe. Our efforts to advance freedom and democracy and prosperity have served as beacons of hope for many around the world – and continue to do so.

Since 9/11, officials of our two nations are engaged in ongoing initiatives addressing the threat of global terrorism. As Ambassador, one of my highest priorities is the safety and welfare of American citizens in Germany. My other priorities will be to work with Germany on countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, fighting the illicit narcotics trade, and combating trafficking in persons. I would like to point out that Americans and Germans are working side by side to promote stability in Afghanistan, to promote sustainable development in Africa, and put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The constitutional process that is unfolding in Iraq is also a positive development that nations on both sides of the Atlantic support. The fact that Iraq will have a democratic constitution that honors women's rights, the rights of minorities, is going to be an important change in the broader Middle East.

I look forward to working with the German government to strengthen our bilateral cooperation on a broad number of issues that we face. The world depends on both of us. A wise friend of mine once summed it up this way. Freedom and liberty. Duty and responsibility. That’s the deal.

Vielen Dank.

Question: Ambassador, Chris Burns with CNN. Relations between German and America have been problematic in the last few years because of Iraq. I believe you have been critical of Germany for not participating in the Iraqi conflict. How do you hope to improve those relations?

Ambassador: Well, I think the important thing is that both Chancellor Schröder and President Bush have mutually agreed to improve the relations, and so all the rest of us working for both governments can work under that umbrella -- the visits to Mainz and to Brussels, the President in the last year liked things that are indicative of this desire. I believe that it will take work on everybody's part where we come together in every sector of both of our governments.

Question: Udo Bauer, Deutsche Welle. Mr. Ambassador, you're not a politician, you're a businessman, an entrepreneur. How did you prepare yourself for that job, which is mainly a political job in Germany?

Ambassador: Well, as you perhaps are aware, in the United States we don't make the clear separation that's often made in European countries; but I have prepared by handling a global, Fortune 500 company for the last 30 plus years, and in the process you learn to be a diplomat or you can't succeed. Secondly, I obviously, in my heading up the National Association of Manufacturers, I have had an opportunity to do a lot of things across the entire country. Maybe I'd better stop there (for interpreter). I also have been deeply involved in the United States in the political process for almost 40 years.

Question: My name is Clemens Wergin, from the Tagesspiegel. I'd like to remark that when your predecessor came to Germany it was only a couple of days before 9/11 happened and now it's New Orleans that's happening. I hope … (inaudible). My question is, regarding the (inaudible) … that we've heard in Berlin, there is a big discussion in Europe and in the German press that this is the proof that the United States should do more to prevent climate change. Do you think that the discussion in the U.S. will concentrate more on the topic that's very dear to Europeans?

Ambassador: Well, I would say at this point that people in the United States and hopefully around the world are far more concerned about the people suffering, losing their homes, their families, in the United States than to try to get into scientific arguments that go on and on. So, at this point in time, we're focused on trying to handle the results of the catastrophe which is, as you might imagine, an ongoing process; it doesn't stop on the 10th day or the 14th day. And may I add also that the tremendous generosity and depth of support in Germany for the victims in New Orleans and the south coast of the United States, I think is, as I said earlier, indicative of the strong bond between the countries.

Question: This is Michele Sani from Reuters Television. Ambassador, speaking about this aid, how would you explain to the German population that the U.S. actually needs this aid from countries across the Atlantic?

Ambassador: Well, I think it's self-evident that this is a catastrophe of unparalleled nature, and obviously there are no instruction books nor would there ever be enough support to solve the depth and scope of this problem. We have as a nation received offers of support from, in addition obviously to Germany, more than 50 countries. But most importantly as well, the 50 states within the United States are sending a great deal of support there, so I think to make judgments at this point in time is premature. I would be more interested in seeing where we are in one year from now, but I can say that in times of emergencies we all avail ourselves of as much help as we can possibly get, and it's been welcomed that the rest of the world has been so willing to support.

Question: Dalia Millán, from efe news service. I have three questions. First, do you think that this crisis will prompt the United States to understand how important it is, the international cooperation is? Second, have you talked with the German government about the summit of the United Nations, and, third, the conservative party here, the Christian Democrats, is campaigning saying they will improve the relationship with the United States. Are you pleased that this is such a priority in this campaign, for this party?

Ambassador: Well, the answer to the first question is obvious. The more all of us can do to realize the need to get along together and work together in the world, the better it is. It's unfortunate that an event would be one of those teaching lessons, but I'm sure not only the United States -- the people in the United States -- but the entire world will remember the event and how we all participated in it. I was trying to get a little clarification on the second question. Your question is about the UN itself, or…?

Question: If you talked about the Millennium project, or what is the discussion that is going to take place in New York? If you have talked about it?

Ambassador: No, I have no information on that. With respect to the last, our purpose is to observe, not to have anything to do with your election. What happens in your election is entirely up to Germans, and that's something that we have nothing to do with. We can work with whatever government is in Germany, and have worked with various governments in the past.

Question: You talk about working out the details for the help of the Germans for the American people, and can you exactly say what you need most now? Germany offered the "Berlin," which is a hospital ship, and freshwater systems. So when will you decide, and what do you need most?

Ambassador: Well, I think everyone has to understand that, as I said earlier, this is such a monumental event that there is no prescribed course of action to take. But it's quite clear that it will move sequentially through a series of different things which will require different things at different times; so in the very first moments, saving every human life, getting people out of the distressed area, etc., require one type of expertise, and then, as the people are resettled in other areas, a different type of supplies or expertise or whatever it might be is required. You can imagine, if, as I said earlier, 50 countries are offering help, and 50 states in the United States are offering help -- that is a complex set of assistance available, and then the situation itself is complex. So the experts on the ground will be making the calls and I'm not in a position to do that. However, our press people can give you the list of the things we asked for when countries around the world wanted a list. And we also had meetings, as I said earlier, with the German government, where they have proposed certain things, and at this point in Berlin, we're really just a pass-through of information.

Question: Holger Schmale, Berliner Zeitung. Mr. Ambassador, talking about international support, I mean, could you image that the U.S. would even accept support from Cuba?

Ambassador: That's above my pay grade (laughter).

Question: Louis Charbonneau, Reuters News Agency. Ambassador, in the debate on Sunday, Mrs. Merkel recalled a speech of Ronald Reagan's when he was in his debate in 1980 in which he asked voters to think about, he said, are you better off than you were four years ago, a very famous moment in that debate. I just wanted to ask you what you think about the legacy of Ronald Reagan when his speeches are being recalled not just in the United States but are being used almost as a template to speak to people in a different country across the ocean?

Ambassador: Well, I think many Americans would now believe that Ronald Reagan will go down as one of the great presidents because of the turn in direction that he was able to provide for the country, and I think some of the research work done on him subsequently has shown that he had extensive knowledge and was extremely thoughtful. So I'm not surprised that he's quoted, and I'm sure that a lot of the wisdom that he had will be utilized all over the world, hopefully. President Reagan used to make jokes about his age by referring to the fact that he knew some historical figures like George Washington personally. My claim is that I did know Ronald Reagan personally and spent some time with him.

Question: Udo Bauer, Deutsche Welle, once again. Mr. Ambassador, you told us that you have already met Foreign Minister Fischer and Mr. Steinmeier. Have you already had meetings with conservative party officials? Are you planning to have meetings with them, and are you looking forward to working together with the new conservative government?

Ambassador: As you might imagine, my job in this country, like the job of the German ambassador in the United States, is to meet with people from all different views and opinions, and in the course of the months ahead I expect to do that.

Question: Ambassador, could you just give us a little idea of your first impressions of Berlin?

Ambassador: Well, I have been visiting Germany for 45 years now, in one role or another. I've been in Berlin, I believe, three times in the past. But the last time was probably 13 years, so when I saw Berlin today, or when I arrived, the change was amazing to me. Near the Brandenburg Gate I stood on bare earth the last time I was here, and of course we are visibly in the process of building our embassy and the completion of the Pariser Platz, so it's tremendous change. My wife and I are greatly impressed and enjoying ourselves, and I can say that everything has exceeded my expectations.

Question: Clemens Wergin again from the Tagesspiegel. Your predecessor Ambassador Coats was kind of restricted in the way that he could engage in public debate in Germany because he didn't speak German. Do you want to change that in the future, are you planning to learn German in a way that you can engage the public more?

Ambassador: Well, I noticed that I didn't speak German when I arrived (laughter), but as the order of priorities it, today, because of the wonderful English-speaking capability of the German nation, and particularly the government, it's not as important as it might have been in the past. However, to travel all over the country, which I will do, I will use a translator… (laughter). I certainly will make every attempt to be able to speak German, since it's my mother country in a sense. However, in typical government fashion, I speak French, so they sent me to Germany (laughter). But I have operated all over the world – in China, in Korea, many other places where I don't speak their language either -- successfully, and I expect to do so here. But I do want to make the point that I and my wife do want to go into every corner of Germany to meet everybody of all walks of life and to understand and listen and learn as much as possible.

Question: Charles Hawley, Spiegel Online International. Mr. Timken, you've spent – in your role as the head of Timken Company – you've been a major contributor to the Republican Party and to President Bush. I'm wondering how much do you think that your contributions have to do with your appointment as ambassador?

Ambassador: Well, I think that one thing that's not clear in the records is the fact that I have been a major supporter and fundraiser for the Republican Party for forty years, at the time when the President was a young man, so his is just the most recent candidacy that I have supported; and my father before me, and my grandfather before me, have all supported Republicans. We believe in the Republican philosophy and President Bush as the Republican candidate. How does it help you become a candidate? Well, obviously if I had never been involved in politics I wouldn't have known the President, his father, so I wouldn't have come to their attention. And I suppose there might be hundreds of thousands of Americans that could be fulfilling this role today, but I think that my record of my lifetime is as strong as most of those hundreds of thousands, and therefore, it was natural that, when considered for this position, that the President first looks at qualifications and ability to do the job. And, from that, most importantly, as a result of the process, I know him well. He gave me my orders personally, so I can represent what the President says when I tell you he is personally greatly interested in an improvement of bilateral relationships between the United States and Germany, and the entire transatlantic relationship between the United States and Europe.

Thank you very much. I look forward to seeing you again.

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  U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany /Public Affairs/ Information Resource Centers  
Updated: December 2005