Expatica news

Rebuilding US-Berlin ties

What a difference a year makes!


Joschka Fischer: one of the most active EU foreign ministers in the Mideast

At the 2003 Munich Security Conference — the top annual venue for global defence issues — German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously clashed over the Iraq war.

Fischer, his voice shaking with emotion, underlined the worst split in German-American relations since 1945 by turning to Rumsfeld in front of TV cameras, jabbing his finger and declaring: “Excuse me, I’m not convinced!”

The US responded by icily ignoring Germany’s anti-Iraq war stance and President George W Bush refused to speak with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for almost a year.

Fast forward to last month.

Fischer used the same meeting, attended by almost 50 foreign and defence ministers, to issue proposals strikingly similar to President Bush’s Greater Middle East Initiative aimed at pushing reforms in an arc of nations from Morocco to Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld, shedding his sometimes confrontational tone, reached out to European allies for assistance by calling for a bigger Nato role in Afghanistan and for the Alliance to be inserted into Iraq.

Fischer, in a concession to Washington, underlined that Berlin — while unwilling to send troops — would not block sending Nato to Baghdad.

“Neither the US nor Europe and the Middle East itself can tolerate the status quo in the Middle East any longer,” said Fischer, adding: “The Middle East is at the epicentre of the greatest threat to our regional and global security at the dawn of this century, namely destructive jihadist terrorism and its totalitarian ideology.”

*quote1*This kind of tough talk paved the way for Schroeder’s successful meeting with Bush in the White House on 27 February where the two leaders vowed to coordinate efforts for a joint proposal on the Greater Middle East to be unveiled at three international summits in June.

The meetings are the G8 summit of industrial nations at Sea Island, Georgia; a Nato summit in Istanbul; and a US summit with European Union leaders in Dublin.

President Bush went out of his way to praise Germany’s military role in Afghanistan where Berlin has deployed 2,000 soldiers. Officials also noted that Schroeder’s backing for Turkish EU membership is warmly welcomed by Washington.

Fischer has been one of the most active European foreign ministers in the Mideast in recent years. Indeed, one diplomat who worked with Fischer claims the minister’s top interests are Europe, the Mideast and the US — followed considerably lower down the scale by the rest of the world.

This, combined with Germany’s status as the biggest nation in the EU, apparently convinced Washington the path to winning over continental Europe for its Mideast thrust goes through Berlin.

Nevertheless, some analysts have been surprised at the sudden prominence given to Germany by the US compared with other European states.

*quote2*Seizing Berlin’s facilitator role, Fischer called in a Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper interview for “a new transatlanticism” on the Mideast to be the foundation for nothing less than a reconstruction of the West.

“The EU’s response to the strategic (Middle East) threat will play a crucial role in shaping our relations with America. I see an opportunity here for a renewed transatlantic partnership for the 21st century,” he said.

Fischer said US and German diplomats are working to merge Bush’s proposals — which have not yet been formally released — and those set out by Berlin.

In his Munich speech, Fischer was careful to stress that resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict “should neither be set aside nor allowed to block this initiative from the outset.”

Germany wants a four-track approach to the region.

  • The top priority is security and political cooperation aimed at confidence-building measures, transparency, verification and arms control.
  • Bolstering the economy is the second pillar with the aim being creation of a Mediterranean free trade area by 2010.
  • Fostering democracy, the rule of law, a free media and cooperation in education comprise the third track.
  • The final pillar is bolstering civil society.

This echoes a US Working Paper for G8 leaders which calls on the June summit to agree common reform priorities for the region including: promoting democracy and good governance; boosting education and expanding economic opportunities.

Fischer underlines that Europe, in contrast to the US, has dual interests in the Middle East.

“A strategic interest, which America has as well. But we are also immediate neighbours – and America is not,” says Fischer.

The intensity of these dual interests was brutally brought home to Europe by last week’s Madrid bombings which killed 200 and injured almost 1,500 people.

March 2004


Subject: German News, US-German relations