US presidents, ex-Soviet leader Gorbachev hail late German Chancellor Helmut Kohl as 'one of the greatest'

Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl pausing during the celebration ofthe eleventh anniversary of German unification in Stuttgart, on Oct 3, 2001.
Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl pausing during the celebration ofthe eleventh anniversary of German unification in Stuttgart, on Oct 3, 2001.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US presidents and ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev mourned the death of Helmut Kohl on Friday (June 17), praising his role in the reunification of Germany, with former president George H.W. Bush calling him "one of the greatest leaders in post-War Europe."

"Helmut hated war - but he detested totalitarianism even more," Bush said in a statement of the former German chancellor.

"Working closely with my very good friend to help achieve a peaceful end to the Cold War and the unification of Germany within Nato will remain one of the great joys of my life," he added.

Former president Bill Clinton said he was "deeply saddened" by the death of "my dear friend" whose "visionary leadership prepared Germany and all of Europe for the 21st century."

"He was called upon to answer some of the most monumental questions of his time, and in answering them correctly he made possible the reunification of a strong, prosperous Germany and the creation of the European Union," Clinton said.

"I will never forget walking with him through the Brandenburg Gate in 1994 for a large rally on the eastern side, and seeing genuine hope in the eyes of tens of thousands of young people," he said.

 
 

"I knew at that moment that Helmut Kohl was the man who could help them realise their dreams. History continues to prove that he delivered."

President Donald Trump hailed Kohl as a "friend and ally" of the United States.

"He was not only the father of German reunification, but also an advocate for Europe and the transatlantic relationship. The world has benefitted from his vision and efforts. His legacy will live on," Trump said in a White House statement.

Gorbachev salutes Kohl’s ‘exceptional personality’

Ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called Kohl an exceptional personality who had shown “a deep interest for Russia”. 

Gorbachev, 86, paid special tribute to the way Kohl led Germany through the process of reunification, which was “not without risk”.

On July 16, 1990, it fell to Gorbachev as Soviet president and to Kohl, as chancellor of West Germany, to reach an agreement on the reunification of communist East Germany with the capitalist west.  

Kohl succeeded in “taking into account the interests of others and overcoming general mistrust to achieve mutual trust”, the former Soviet leader said.  “He was without doubt an exceptional personality who left his mark on German, European and international history,” added Gorbachev.  

Kohl had always shown “a great and deep interest in Russia”, he said in a statement on the website of his Gorbachev Foundation.  He had “warned the West against taking on a contemptuous attitude towards Russian interests”, the statement added.  

As the last leader of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev oversaw an easing of decades of tensions with the West that helped to end the Cold War.  

Kohl, who had been in poor health and confined to a wheelchair since 2009, died on Friday at the age of 87.