In an unusual gesture, United States President Barack Obama took German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a two-hour dinner at a Washington restaurant on the eve of their crucial official talks at the White House.
Obama's gesture is being considered by observers in Washington as an attempt on the part of the US President to sort out differences with Merkel, against the backdrop of Germany's move to abstain from a United Nations Security Council resolution for establishing a no-fly zone over Libya.
Accompanied by her top cabinet ministers, Merkel arrived at Washington on Monday to hold talks with Obama on a series of issues ranging from the developments in North Africa and the Middle East, to the European debt crisis, the UN Security Council reform and the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan after the death of Osama bin Laden.
Obama has invited Merkel to the White House for an official meeting and state dinner, his presidency's first for a European leader, on Tuesday evening at the Rose Garden.
White House officials on Monday acknowledged that the two leaders have had differences despite mutual admiration for each other. The very fact that Germany along with India abstained from the UN Security Council resolution on Libya, is one such example, officials pointed out.
While Obama wore a dark suit, Merkel was attired in a blue jacket and white pants for the dinner at the restaurant on Monday night, a White House pool report said.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said the President and Chancellor Merkel have developed "a very strong relationship while he's been in office. He greatly appreciates her logical, decisive leadership style and enjoys working with her."
In an interview to a German newspaper, Obama said he consults with the German Chancellor on every important issue on his international agenda and he very much appreciates her pragmatism and straight talk.
"We don't always agree on everything; no two allies do. But in our meetings and discussions, we always speak honestly and openly, as close friends should, and I believe that our approach to shared challenges is stronger because of it," he told the Der Tagesspiegel, a leading daily in the German capital.
"Germany is at the centre of Europe, and the cooperation between the United States and Germany is central to everything we hope to accomplish in the world," said the US President.
Observing that he always enjoys working with Chancellor Merkel, Obama said he considers her to be a good friend and one of his closest global partners.
"That's one of the reasons her visit to Washington will be the first official visit and state dinner for a European leader during my presidency. This will be the tenth time we have had face-to-face discussions since I became President and that's in addition to our frequent conversations by telephone and video teleconference," he said.
"My friendship with Chancellor Merkel is based on my deep respect and admiration for her as a leader and the fact that I trust her when she makes a commitment. Our nations have faced many challenges together since my first day in office, and I'm personally very grateful to Chancellor Merkel for her friendship and partnership," Obama said.