German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Sunday denied falling out with Chancellor Angela Merkel after the pair traveled on separate airplanes to the United States.
In an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Kramp-Karrenbauer said: “To be absolutely clear, there is no rift between Angela Merkel and me.”
Merkel was due to appear at the United Nations Climate Summit and then the UN General Assembly in New York, while Kramp-Karrenbauer was to travel on to Washington to meet her US counterpart.
Instead, the defense minister and her entourage were removed from Merkel’s plane at short notice, and the two politicians traveled almost simultaneously on two separate air force jets to the US east coast.
“I find the speculation about this trip absolutely baffling,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told Bild. “This was my first meeting with my American colleague, and it was vital to keep this appointment given the number of significant issues that we had to discuss, including Afghanistan, tensions in the Strait of Hormuz, and the financing of NATO.”
“The joint trip, which was proposed by my ministry, did not materialize. Fortunately, we found an alternative [plan]. So for me, that’s the end of it.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s return leg had already been booked on a commercial airliner, but the Defense Ministry said last week they were informed by the chancellery that the minister would need to rearrange her outbound flight too.
The ministry said flight plans were decided according to ministers’ schedules, destination, flight length and the size of the accompanying delegation.
Kramp-Karrenbauer said she wasn’t offended that her delegation was offloaded.
Tough act to follow
In December, the 57-year-old was picked to replace Merkel as head of the conservative ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) after the chancellor said she would not seek party reelection.
Kramp-Karrenbauer has been widely tipped to replace Merkel as chancellor when the four-term leader steps down in 2021, but CDU insiders have their doubts about her suitability.
Kramp-Karrenbauer also lost credibility after taking on the defense portfolio having vowed not to seek a ministerial post. Opinion polls suggest the minister is not popular with CDU voters.
The decision to take two planes was initially controversial for another reason. The move came days after Merkel announced a €54 billion ($61 billion) package of measures to tackle climate change. German media later speculated about a rift.