'No shift' in Germany's Iraq policy under Merkel

16th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

16 November 2005, BERLIN - There will be no shift in Germany's refusal to send troops to Iraq under future chancellor Angela Merkel, said Berlin's designated foreign minister on Wednesday.

16 November 2005

BERLIN - There will be no shift in Germany's refusal to send troops to Iraq under future chancellor Angela Merkel, said Berlin's designated foreign minister on Wednesday.

"People are intelligent enough and know enough on the other side of the Atlantic to see that we are pulling our weight in global engagement and responsibilities," said Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a member of outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD), in an ARD TV interview.

The remarks directed at the U.S. were an apparent reference to the thousands of German troops serving with peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and the Balkans.

Steinmeier said Merkel's grand coalition, comprised of her Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) and Schroeder's SPD, had agreed there would be no major changes on Iraq policy.

Chancellor Schroeder, for whom Steinmeier has been chief-of-staff, led European opposition to the 2003 Iraq war and ties with Washington were badly strained over the conflict.

Berlin has refused to send troops to Iraq and its police and military training programmes for Iraqis are only carried outside the country.

Steinmeier also said Wednesday that the close Franco-German alliance in the European Union would continue under chancellor Angela Merkel.

"We will naturally ... groom the German-French partnership with the same intensity in which it has been developed over the past years," said Steinmeier in an N-TV interview, adding: "The first (foreign) visits of Merkel and myself will certainly be to France."

Steinmeier, who helped to build closer relations to Paris as Schroeder's chief-of-staff, insisted the Franco-German alliance was "not directed at anybody."

Smaller and medium-sized countries in the European Union have expressed concern over what they see as a Berlin-Paris axis bent on dominating the 25-nation bloc.

Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac forged a close political friendship and always met shortly before E.U. summits to coordinate policies. Both leaders joined forces to oppose the Iraq war.

Ties went so deep that Schroeder allowed Chirac to represent Berlin at E.U. meetings he was unable to attend.

"It's not against the small states and we will perhaps have to make this clear in an appropriate manner," said Steinmeier who did not elaborate on how Berlin would go about doing this.

Nevertheless, it remains unclear how much influence Steinmeier will have over Berlin's foreign policy. Under both Schroeder and his predecessor, Helmut Kohl, foreign policy was very much made in the chancellery.

So aside from chancellor Merkel - due to be elected by parliament on November 22 - the man to watch is her foreign affairs adviser, high-flying German diplomat Christoph Heusgen.

Heusgen was quoted by the weekly Die Zeit as saying Merkel plans to balance ties with France by expanding the role of Germany's other big neighbour, Poland.

"Heusgen is thinking about a new partnership with France and Poland. He wants to bind in Warsaw more strongly and consult with the Baltic states more often," said Die Zeit.

Heusgen, who from 1999 to 2005 was chief-of-staff of E.U. top diplomat Javier Solana, is determined to boost Germany's role in the E.U. and improve ties with other member states, the paper said.

This would be more like former chancellor Kohl who was careful to maintain good relations with all the E.U.'s small states in order to have their support for major bloc decisions.

© DPA with Expatica

Subject: German news

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