"Prostitute" remark provokes Germany

13th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

13 June 2007, Washington (dpa) - Just as trans-Atlantic relations appeared to be nearly normal again, a top US congressman stirred controversy Tuesday by saying former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's close business ties to Russia amounted to "political prostitution." The remarks invoked the divisive atmosphere of four years ago, as the US prepared to go to war in Iraq unilaterally after Western Europe refused to support US President George W Bush. For Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who

13 June 2007

Washington (dpa) - Just as trans-Atlantic relations appeared to be nearly normal again, a top US congressman stirred controversy Tuesday by saying former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's close business ties to Russia amounted to "political prostitution."

The remarks invoked the divisive atmosphere of four years ago, as the US prepared to go to war in Iraq unilaterally after Western Europe refused to support US President George W Bush.

For Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who chairs the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, that rebuff apparently still stings.

Speaking at the dedication ceremony for a victims of communism memorial in Washington, Lantos attacked both Schroeder and former French president Jacques Chirac for failing to support the United States in its fight against what he called the next wave of tyranny - Islamic fascism - after all the US had done in saving Europe from Nazism and communism.

Lantos said their exit from office opened the way to a better era of trans-Atlantic relations, adding he would like to call Schroeder "a political prostitute, now that he's taking big cheques from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin."

"But the sex workers in my district objected," he quipped.

His remarks provoked gasps not only of surprise from the crowd of survivors of communism gathered for the dedication in Washington, but also of anger in Germany.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Lantos had overstepped the line of political decency, and his comments were unworthy of a democratically elected representative.

"This bad lapse of judgement insults not only the former chancellor, but also the huge majority of the German people who rejected the Iraq war with good reason - not the least because of the historic experiences of Germans themselves," Steinmeier said in Sweden, where he was travelling, according to German officials in Malmo.

In Berlin, German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm rejected the remarks "clearly and decisively" as a "lapse of judgement."

"This is an unseemly level of discourse with a former chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany," Wilhelm told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa.

Schroeder's party, the Social Democrats (SPD), also jumped to the former chancellor's defence. SPD general secretary Hubertus Heil said that if the remarks were correct, they were simply a "sign of political stupidity and tastelessness."

"Gerhard Schroeder was right in saying 'no' to the war in Iraq - a position that not only the people of Europe, but also of the United States, now see as justified," Heil said.

Lantos' criticism focussed on Schroeder's current 300,000-dollars- a-year job as chairman of the North European Gas Pipeline, which is majority-owned by the Russian state natural gas company Gazprom.

In Germany, Schroeder's critics were outraged when he took the job after leaving office in 2005.

But the criticism escalated to charges of profiteering when it was revealed that during his final weeks in office, his government committed to a 1.2-billion-dollar loan guarantee to Russia to build a pipeline under the Baltic Sea to supply gas directly to Germany.

Schroeder has denied knowledge of the loan, and Gazprom says it will not make use of the loan guarantee.

Russia has used its energy reserves as a political chip in its continuing bid for hegemony in eastern Europe, and has come under severe criticism for repression of press and other freedoms.

DPA

Subject: German news

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