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Schröder: the common ground between Germany & US

Schröder: Consultations with the United States need to be strengthened

In an interview published in the business daily 'Handelsblatt' on February 16 Chancellor Gerhard Schröder emphasized the common ground that exists between Germany and the United States. Other topics touched on include his proposals for NATO reform and the strategy to be adopted by the international community towards Iran.

Mr. Chancellor, were you surprised by the critical response elicited by your proposals for a reform of transatlantic relations?

No, it was apparently based on misunderstandings. What I want with my proposal is to strengthen NATO and transatlantic relations in general, which are not limited only to NATO. To do this we will need to conduct more thorough consultations than has been the case in the past before policy decisions are taken. Needless to say, there are various forums in which this can be done, and NATO is one of them. A dialogue of this kind will help to avoid misunderstandings and create the kind of legitimacy that is necessary to be able to jointly address difficult tasks. That is the core of my position.

Many Americans reacted negatively at the Munich Security Conference. They seemed to be wary of your intentions.

That's not the impression I have. Visits such as that by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have made it clear that Washington very much wants to open up a new chapter in transatlantic relations. This is a justified proposal to which a political response needs be given. This has been done. There is no need for us to limit our dialogue to instruments. The fact of the matter is that we will only be able to increase our areas of agreement by strengthening mutual consultations. An offer to this effect has been made to us by the Americans. We are taking them up on their offer.

Who, in your opinion, should be included in the group of experts that would be charged with the task of reflecting on transatlantic relations? President Bush senior, for instance, as was suggested in Munich?

It's too early to be discussing specific names. However, I think the proposal to create a group of experts of this kind makes sense and I support the idea wholeheartedly. I look forward to addressing this issue at the various meetings that lie ahead.

Was your proposal coordinated with our EU partners?

Of course I discussed it with my foreign minister and the defense minister. Aside from that I took the liberty of making a proposal of my own, just like any other government leader.

The NATO Secretary General was really surprised ...

I would have liked to have been at the Security Conference to explain the proposal in person. That wasn't possible because I was down with the flu. But I think it can be assumed of people in government that they will sit down and analyze my proposal. That's my hope - and I'm sure that's what will take place.

Was this initiative, just a short time before President Bush's visit, a hint as to what issues you want to talk to him about?

I didn't set the date for the Security Conference. Anything I want to discuss with the President of the United States I will tell him first, and only after that will I be willing to talk to you about it.

Tell us what can be done to reduce distrust.

I recently had an open, businesslike, and perfectly friendly meeting with the new US Secretary of State. And next week I will have a friendly meeting with the President of the United States.

In connection with your proposal to establish a group of experts you made reference to similar reforms at the United Nations. Do you see NATO as being in a crisis similar to the one at the UN?

My reference was not to a crisis, but rather to deficits in political discourse. No one who knows anything about these matters would want to express doubt as to the existence of these problems. Nothing to this effect has been stated publicly. A debate has been conducted on appropriate forms of discourse.

According to all the polls taken, there is still considerable mistrust of George Bush in Germany. Do you see any chance of this changing?

Relations between the United States and Germany are not dependent on opinion polls. This applies on both sides of the Atlantic. There will be close cooperation with the President of the United States. This is quite simply the duty of a government that bases its actions on rational principles, as mine does.

In Munich US representatives emphasized that they are now expecting more help in Iraq.

There is no reason for Germany to be accused of deficits in fulfilling international duties. In Afghanistan Germany provides the second-largest troop contingent after that of the United States. Without us the security situation there would be different. We also have 4,000 armed forces personnel stationed in the Balkans. We are training Iraqi soldiers and police officers in the United Arab Emirates. The US government is aware of the fact that we are not going to send soldiers to Iraq and that is respected. There is appreciation for what we are doing for Iraq with regard to debt relief and training. I have stated clearly that we are willing to provide additional assistance, for instance in the process of drafting an Iraqi constitution or the organization of ministries. But the red line will remain.

Aside from Iraq - where do we stand today with regard to overall transatlantic relations?

I think we can say today that we know of each other what the one side wants and what the other side is able to do. I am very happy that excessively high expectations as well as the feeling that the other side is not doing enough are no longer there. This provides a very good basis for discussing what is needed in terms of international division of labor. This is more feasible today than ever before. Every possible effort will be undertaken on my part to try to achieve this.

Will Iran be the next test of transatlantic relations?

It makes no sense to speak of a test of our relations in this context. We need to work together to see to it that Iran chooses to forego nuclear weapons. This is important in the interest of the region and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons - and we have just as strong an interest in this as the United States does. We have the same objective. What we are discussing is the instruments with which this objective can be achieved. The EU sees negotiations as the right approach, a position I support. If you want to negotiate successfully you have to be able to offer something to the other side. The offer that could be made in this specific instance would be economic cooperation and security. These two things can best be guaranteed by Europe and America working together. With this in mind, I would like to see strong support for the European approach. The more closely we work together, the better the prospects will be that the negotiations will be successful.

Do you want to open the door for Iran to become a member of the World Trade Organization if it refrains from acquiring nuclear weapons?

There are lots of possible options. We should offer Iran an intensification of trade relations. We should signal to Iran that if it complies with the wishes of the international community this will have a positive effect on its return to the international community - both politically and economically.

Many Americans are saying that if this fails the Europeans should also be willing to take a harder line with Teheran and to bring the matter before the UN Security Council. Would you be willing to accept an automatic mechanism of this kind?

Automatic mechanisms are always bad. I would prefer to work to ensure that the negotiations are successful.

Is there any case in which you would consider military action justified?

I'm against a military intervention. But that's speculation and not something I want to comment on.

Would unilateral action by the United States in Iran once again put a severe strain on transatlantic relations?

I am against singling out individual issues and saying disagreement on a given issue could strain the Alliance. I have always said our shared values and what we have in common on the basis of those values are much more important than any differences of opinion we might have on this or that issue. I have emphasized this quite often over the past two or three years. There will always be more areas of agreement than areas of disagreement between Germany and the United States. When differences occur we need to try to resolve them cooperatively.

Some SPD politicians are concerned that the Iraq situation could be repeated in Iran ...

There may very well be concerns of this kind, but I don't want to comment on them. It wouldn't be helpful.

According to our information you also talked to Secretary of State Rice about China. Why does the German government advocate lifting the EU arms embargo against China?

I can neither confirm nor deny that. My rule is never to provide information on confidential meetings. However, you need to operate on the assumption that a given piece of information can be wrong ...

Let's ask the question differently. Why is Germany in favor of lifting the arms embargo at a time when Taiwan is still being threatened militarily by China?

I don't know if I agree with that analysis. At any rate it is important to keep in mind why the embargo was imposed by the EU. It wasn't done for foreign or security policy reasons. It was done in response to the massacre on Tiananmen Square in 1989. Now the question has arisen as to whether the embargo is still appropriate, given the change in leadership in Beijing and the modest progress that has been made with regard to liberalization. I have come to the conclusion that it is not.

When will the embargo be lifted?

Under current planning it will be in the first half of this year. At the same time it is clear that we do not intend to supply arms to China. The Chinese government is aware of this. It will be a symbolic act.

Will our national regulations on arms exports continue to apply, even if the embargo is lifted?

Of course. As is widely known, German regulations on arms exports are restrictive. We are required to abide by them. And I do not intend to change them.

There is considerable resistance to the EU plan in the US Congress. Wouldn't lifting the embargo involve the risk of straining transatlantic relations?

I think there is a rational debate on this in the United States. I can't imagine transatlantic relations being significantly affected by this issue.

When we sum up all your responses to transatlantic differences, we get the impression that, while a different tone is now being heard from Washington, the same old tone is coming out of Europe.

Quite on the contrary. Although there may be some who can rightfully be accused of outdated modes of thinking, what we want is to see transatlantic relations become more dialogue-oriented and to see them improve on the basis of this dialogue. This is meant sincerely. And I expect the Americans see this the same way. There is one factor that should not be underestimated. The measure of what can be achieved jointly is dependent, among other things, on the extent to which decisions are taken jointly. This is so because they then have greater legitimacy for your own people. I think we're on the right track in this. That's why I'm really looking forward to the visit by George W. Bush.

When will you be making a visit to the United States?

Doubtless before the end of this year. But we see each other fairly often. And we talk on the telephone. There are lots of meetings at levels below that of Chancellor and President. It is certainly no longer possible to speak of a communication deficit in German-American relations.

Never before in the history of postwar Germany has there been such a negative attitude towards an American president. The question arises as to whether or not opposition to US policy is something done with an eye to popularity ratings - something the opposition accuses you of.

This accusation has no basis in fact. An attitude of this kind would be wrong. I am genuinely convinced that Europe, and the Germans in particular, need to work together with the United States. Whenever things get serious we need each other. Thus, any attempt to make political use of anti-Americanism - to the extent that it can be said to exist at all - will be doomed to failure in the long run. Equating opposition to a war such as the one in Iraq with anti-Americanism is simply wrong. We need to guard against assertions of this kind becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Have you changed your mind with regard to the war in Iraq?

No, and I don't intend to. But that's recent history. What's important now is the postwar situation. Europe and America have a common interest in the development of a democratic Iraq and in the reconstruction of the country. I support this effort to the extent that I am able to legitimate it. When I ask myself what the interests of my country are the answer is clearly that we need to contribute towards stability in the entire Middle East region.

How would you describe your relationship with the President of the United States?

I have always said that the President is someone with whom I can communicate very well and whose company I enjoy. Of course there are issues on which we have different opinions. But I have no personal reservations. On the contrary.


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