11 December 2003
BERLIN – Amid new Berlin-Washington tensions over Iraq, the special US envoy for Iraq, James Baker, will be visiting Berlin sometime before Christmas, German government spokesman Bela Anda said Thursday.
Anda disclosed the Baker visit as being one result of the telephone talk the evening before between Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and U.S. President George W. Bush concerning Iraqi debts and the issue of contracts in Iraq’s reconstruction.
The spokesman said Bush agreed to send Baker to Berlin before Christmas to discuss the question of a rescheduling of Iraqi debts. Baghdad’s Saddam-era debts to Germany stand at some 4 billion euros (4.8 billion dollars).
Anda said Schroeder and Bush also discussed the controversy which erupted after Washington announced that German and Russian firms would be barred from competing for major reconstruction projects in Iraq. Schroeder had blasted this as “unacceptable”.
Meanwhile, Germany and the United States began talks at the sub-ministerial level on Thursday on a reduction of US military forces stationed in Germany.
German Foreign Ministry minister of state Klaus Scharioth and US Undersecretary of State Marc Grossmann declined to say how substantial the troop reductions might be. Scharioth said there would be further consultations on the issue between the two countries.
Currently some 60,000 to 70,000 U.S. soldiers are based in Germany, with government officials saying that the decision on troop reductions expected to take some months to reach. The reductions would then take place over a number of years.
Scharioth stressed the importance Berlin attaches to the US forces in Germany.
Grossmann said that the potential dangers had shifted, requiring both US forces and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to make adjustments.
The talks come after a series of reports in the press during the course of this year about potential plans by Washington to reduce its forces in Germany and possibly building up a military presence further eastwards in Europe.
In late November, the Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung said it had acquired information that Germany would remain the most important foreign base for the US military, with up to 80 percent of the American forces to remain stationed in the country.
The paper said the Bush administration had rejected sweeping reductions proposed by General James Jones, head of US European Command, and will retain 80 percent of its forces in Germany.
Subject: German news