Profile: Germany's Defense Minister Looks to NATO Resolution of Differences Related to Contingency Planning for Turkey

All Things Considered: February 13, 2003

U.S. - German Rift Widens over Iraq Policy



ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

LYNN NEARY, host:

And I'm Lynn Neary.

Germany's defense minister said today he hopes that by Saturday NATO can resolve its dispute over contingency planning for a war in Iraq. The alliance has been deadlocked since Monday when Germany joined France and Belgium in vetoing a US request to help Turkey in the event of war. The NATO flap has widened the rift over Iraq policy between the US and Germany, and as NPR's Emily Harris reports from Berlin, it won't be easy for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government to mend relations with the Bush administration.

EMILY HARRIS reporting:

Chancellor Schroeder first took a firm stance against war in Iraq in the national election campaign last fall. Today, he addressed the issue in a special speech to parliament. Schroeder said war is not inevitable. He also said the first United Nations resolution that sent inspectors back to Iraq does not include automatic clearance for military action should Iraq fail to disarm. That's one point on which Washington and Berlin strongly disagree. In part of his speech, though, Schroeder took pains to try to smooth the US-German rift.

Chancellor GERHARD SCHROEDER (Germany): (Through Translator) Germans and Americans are linked not just by the gratitude we feel for being freed from the Nazis and having the chance to build a democracy. We're also connected by deep cultural ties and friendship based on mutual respect and shared goals.

HARRIS: But US officials say privately nothing coming from Schroeder holds much water anymore. They see Schroeder's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, as a more savvy, consistent and effective diplomat; anti-war, but aware of the value of strong trans-Atlantic ties. So a Fischer outburst last weekend came as a surprise to some. He was addressing a conference in Munich, speaking German, then broke into English to direct this comment to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who sat nearby.

SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH

Mr. JOSCHKA FISCHER (German Foreign Minister): You must convince by yourself. And, excuse me, I'm not convinced. This is my problem. And I cannot go to the public and say, `Oh, well, let's go to war because there are reasons,' and so on, and I don't believe in them.

HARRIS: Fischer is extremely popular in Germany, but reaction to those remarks was mixed. Some political observers noted Fischer's comments came after less-than-diplomatic words from Rumsfeld associating Germany with Libya and Cuba. But an influential columnist called Fischer's words `hysterical.' Political analyst Christian Hacke was at the Munich conference.

Mr. CHRISTIAN HACKE (Political Analyst): I was there and I watched him, and he was totally emotionalized, which is good in private life. But in politics and diplomacy, you have to act with regard to interests and be cool, calm and collected, as you would say. So I don't think that he impressed very much the American secretary.

HARRIS: US diplomats say privately they took Fischer's passion in stride in part because he's built up goodwill over time. One American official said Fischer is much more trustworthy than, say, the French.

What's not clear is how firmly Fischer is in charge of German foreign policy. Berlin is full of hints of angry disagreements between the foreign minister and his boss, Chancellor Schroeder, over how to handle diplomatic maneuvers against war. Jeffrey Gedmin directs the Aspen Institute think tank in Berlin.

Mr. JEFFREY GEDMIN (Aspen Institute): There is a thesis and a conviction in some key circles in Washington that the chancellor has taken over, or hijacked, if you will, German foreign policy and cut Fischer out. Now that may be an exaggerated thesis, but there's a belief that we got off on this wrong track because the chancellor went off in one direction without consulting the foreign minister or bringing him into the game.

HARRIS: But Fischer and Schroeder today were taking the same approach. Fischer told parliament Iraq is not in material breach of the most recent UN resolution, and there is no reason to wage a war. Fischer said he wants to work with France to heal the rift in NATO, a rift Germany blames in part on the United States. Germany says it is a reliable ally and has already agreed to help and is helping NATO partner Turkey prepare its defenses. But Germany says by making a formal request for contingency planning, the US was asking NATO to endorse the view that war is inevitable. Germany, at least, does not believe that. Emily Harris, NPR News, Berlin.

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