Bush and Schröder Back on Speaking Terms Soon to be buddies again?
Gerhard Schröder and George W. Bush will meet next week for their first face-to-face discussions in over a year. It's hoped the meeting, and German offers of help, will help bury the acrimonious dispute over Iraq.
In a sign that relations between the two countries are on the mend, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will meet with U.S. President George W. Bush for private talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.
Schröder will arrive with several offers of help that many hope will put German-American relations on the road to normalization. Schröder has said Germany is prepared to help train Iraqi police, educate the Iraqi military and help finance infrastructure projects involving German companies in Iraq.
Schröder told the Handelsblatt newspaper that the offers were independent of any U.N. resolution on post-war reconstruction in Iraq.
"Iraqi military could also be trained in our army colleges. And of course, we would also pay for this, as we do everywhere we are present," he told the newspaper.
The chancellor warned however, that Germany's budget is tight and that financial contributions to Iraq will be moderate. "We have no plans to offer money," he said.
Staying on message.
Schröder will be attempting to strike a delicate balance during the talks with Bush. While the chancellor wants Germany to be seen as a partner to the U.S., he needs to avoid running the risk of seeming to justify or support Bush's position on Iraq.
According to the government, Schröder's position on Iraq has not changed, and officials insist the chancellor is not going to New York to "give in" in any way.
"It's not about concessions," Karsten Voigt, Coordinator for German-American Relations in the German government, told Reuters. "It's about changing the environment."
Schröder goes to the U.S. in a somewhat stronger position, given that George W. Bush is in a weaker one. The U.S. president has come under increasing pressure, particularly at home, as U.S. peacekeepers in Iraq face rising instability on the ground and near-daily American casualties, while the price tag for the war spirals out of control.
But Schröder appears to be avoiding any public expression of schadenfreude. As he told the Handelsblatt, it is time to look forward.
"Those who favored the war -- and that doesn't mean just the U.S., but also Great Britain and other European countries as well as those who, for considerable reasons, opposed it, must now all accept their common responsibility," he said.
Any country which stays on the sidelines, he said, "is making a mistake."
Still, Schröder has insisted that German participation in Iraq will be limited to civilian reconstruction efforts or training programs. Germany, he warned, "cannot participate in any military action in Iraq."
"Now it's all about reconstructing Iraq, not about a military engagement that we are not considering and for which we have no plans," Schröder said.
Let bygones be bygones.
The relationship between Berlin and Washington turned frosty ever since Schröder's staunch opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Schröder, along with French President Jacques Chirac, was at the head of an anti-war coalition in the build-up to military action against Saddam Hussein. Bush was incensed that Schröder used his critique of U.S. foreign policy to help get reelected last year.
But lately, both sides have shown signs that the deep freeze in ties has begun to thaw. Schröder indicated a willingness to help in the war against terrorism by promising a stronger involvement in Afghanistan.
He has said Germany will deploy troops in the northern city of Kunduz. Germany currently provides the largest contingent of troops in Afghanistan, 1,800 out of 4,000 soldiers.
Bush nodded in Schröder's direction last month by praising the plan. "I look forward to thanking Chancellor Schröder for that," Bush said at the time
When Schröder was told in the interview that U.S. officials consider the meeting a chance for the two leaders to "bury the hatchet," he responded by saying he hadn't been waving any hatchet.
"The press has also greatly exaggerated (the problems in our relationship)," he said. "I know George Bush as someone whose political approach is rational and, independent from differences in the Iraq question, who has always knows what has to be done."
[Source: Deutsche Welle, 20Sep03]
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