September 24, 2002

Moves by Germany to Mend Relations Rebuffed by Bush


BERLIN, Sept. 23 Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who won narrow re-election on Sunday in part by opposing an American war in Iraq, tried today to patch up relations with Washington, but President Bush broke with protocol and refrained from making the customary congratulatory telephone call to the German leader.

In Warsaw for a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld announced that he would not meet his German counterpart, Peter Struck. Mr. Rumsfeld was blunt about the Schröder campaign.

"The way it was conducted was notably unhelpful and, as the White House has indicated, had the effect of poisoning a relationship," he said, referring to criticism from the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, of the German justice minister, who reportedly compared President Bush's tactics to those of Hitler.

Aware of how angry the Bush administration is, Mr. Schröder announced today that the justice minister, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, would not be joining the new government.

But this gesture appeared unlikely to have any immediate impact. A senior administration official told reporters aboard Air Force One this morning, as Mr. Bush headed to a fund-raising event in New Jersey, that Mr. Schröder and his government "have a lot of work to do to repair the damage that he did by his excesses during the campaign."

In an interview today, the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, tried to repair the rift. "We'll work very hard to improve these relations they are crucial for both sides, especially for us," Mr. Fischer said. "We have to go back to normal business with our most important ally, the United States, and with France the most important outside of Europe and the most important ally inside."

President Jacques Chirac of France was also troubled by Mr. Schröder's decision, made without consultation, to oppose any military action against Iraq, even action approved by the United Nations Security Council.

Mr. Schröder spoke during the campaign of a "German way," a phrase that caused unease on both sides of the Atlantic. The fact that a European election has been won on an antiwar ticket critical of the Bush administration will clearly complicate the President's efforts to win support in Europe and will make anti-Bush sentiment more acceptable.

Mr. Fischer sought to draw a line under the embarrassing episode involving the justice minister. Officials of Mr. Schröder's Social Democratic Party estimated that her comments cost them between 1 percent and 2 percent of votes in the close-fought parliamentary election.

"This is very different now," said Mr. Fischer, when asked about relations with Washington."The minister has now resigned, and I think that's an important step."

Mr. Fischer led his Green Party to its greatest success ever, taking 8.6 percent of the vote, making it Germany's third-largest party. Its strong showing secured victory for the governing coalition with Mr. Schröder's party.

But the coalition's majority narrowed to nine seats in the 603-seat Parliament elected Sunday, down from a 21-seat majority in the old lower house, which was elected with 669 members in 1998.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Fischer emphasized the importance of the German partnership with the United States and its debt to American soldiers for both defeating the Nazis and helping West Germany stand up to the Communist East. But he also defended the right of Germans to express a different view on Iraq.

Mr. Fischer said he telephoned Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who congratulated him on his re-election a signal that Washington, too, wants to keep lines open to a close ally, the largest country in Europe.

Mr. Fischer shook his head over Ms. Däubler-Gmelin's comments, which she has denied making in such a crude form. "I don't know what the minister said there was no protocol but even the impression that the president of the United States, the democratically elected leader of the oldest democracy in the world, is linked to a war criminal, a criminal against humanity it's ridiculous," Mr. Fischer said.

"We will never forget that we were liberated by the United States," he said. "The U.S. soldiers were the good guys. You defended us in the cold war, you defended West Berlin, and without the father of the president there would never be such a smooth way to peaceful unification. We will never forget that."

Mr. Schröder, in his press conference today, was careful about the relationship with Washington, insisting that policy toward Iraq would not change.

"The basis of the relationship between Germany and the United States is so secure that the fears that were played up during the election campaign are unfounded," Mr. Schröder said. "Between friends, there can be factual differences, but they should not be personalized, especially between close allies."

Mr. Schröder also made another gesture, removing the Social Democrats' parliamentary floor leader, Ludwig Stiegler, who recently compared Mr. Bush to Augustus, the Roman emperor who subdued the Germanic tribes.

Mr. Fischer emphasized today that Germany was opposed to participation in a war with Iraq, not necessarily to involvement, under United Nations auspices, in missions that might follow. He added that Germany remained firmly aligned with the United States in the fight against Al Qaeda and terrorism.

Asked if German reliability as an ally was now open to question, Mr. Fischer bridled. "It is not open," he said. "I'm not a dope. I'm a realist, and there are serious questions that are not answered from Washington" about an Iraq operation, and about what might follow. "We have to go on with these discussions," he said.

"But I really understand that after 9/11, America and we share this view, that we are not ready to live under the threat of terrorism," he said. "Germany is fully committed to its duties."

Mr. Fischer said Germany strongly backed full compliance with weapons inspections in Iraq, "unlimited and unrestricted."

And if Saddam Hussein does not comply? Mr. Fischer stopped and said, "Is that the debate in Washington?"

With his question, which he did not explain further, Mr. Fischer touched on one of Europe's main concern with the Bush administration's position on Iraq: that the White House wants a war to oust Saddam Hussein, not inspections. Mr. Schröder criticized this approach during the campaign as "a terrible mistake" and a "change of aims."

Asked if he or Mr. Schröder would try to visit Washington before the NATO summit meeting in Prague in November, Mr. Fischer said the question had not yet been discussed.

Christoph Bertram, director of the Institute for International Affairs and Security, which advises the German government, said Germany faced making repairs to relations with three audiences. The first, he said, was "the hard core in Washington, who will not be easily swayed and who will not easily forgive."

The second was broader American public opinion, which Mr. Bertram said could be improved if Germany played a serious role in the Prague NATO meeting and in the United Nations Security Council. Germany is expected to join the Council as a nonpermanent member in January and to take the chair in February. "This will show that German policy has not truly changed and we'll regain trust after a while," he said.

Mr. Bertram said the third audience was Europe, because Mr. Schröder's stance on Iraq, without consultation, "made a common European position more difficult." But he said concern about the Bush administration's position on Iraq was rising all over Europe, which would tend to reduce Germany's isolation.

Mr. Fischer said he expected difficulties in the future. "The years ahead of us will be very, very tough," he said. "History will be very shaky, very bumpy."

It was Mr. Fischer's Greens who delivered victory for the red-green coalition "the first time in Germany that the left has ever defended a majority," Mr. Fischer noted.

Having led the Greens through an election that made it the third largest party, was Mr. Fischer happy?

"Today is a day of happiness," he said, smiling broadly. "But I know I'll pay a bitter price for this happiness, this one sweet day of happiness."

Copyright © 2002 New York Times


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