Germany looks to mend US rift

Almost a year and a half after they cozied up to each other in a restaurant at the Brandenburg gate, eating currywurst and talking war on terror, President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder are set to meet again Wednesday morning in New York.

In transatlantic terms, the face to face is a significant return to normalcy following a period of frigidity between the two leaders over Germany's refusal to take part in the US military invasion of Iraq. Analysts say the pair's decision to bury the hatchet could usher in the harmony needed to move forward this week with a UN resolution dealing with postwar Iraq.

In an effort to build up relations with the US, which remains one of Germany's most important allies, Chancellor Schröder appears ready to move a step away from his tight alliance with fellow war opponent, French President Jacques Chirac.

While France continues to call for a resolution that transfers political power now in US hands to the United Nations and Iraqis within a matter of months, Schröder has struck a more compromising tone. Saying such a transfer "can't happen tomorrow," he has called for a resolution that includes timetables for transfer of power to Iraqi hands. The new tone is designed to come closer to the US-British proposal that the UN assume a "vital role" in Iraq, but that political and military power remain in allied hands for the time being.

"It's astounding how the choice of words has changed in recent weeks," says Bernhard May, transatlantic specialist at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. Schröder realizes "this is the wrong time," to oppose such a resolution, says Mr. May.

The wording is just the latest in a series of goodwill gestures that set the stage for Wednesday morning's 30-minute talk between Bush and Schröder. Last week, Schröder offered to have Iraqi police and military trained in German Army colleges.

Karsten Voigt, the government's coordinator for German-American affairs, says the government is also thinking about increasing its $86 million humanitarian-aid pledge for Iraq and offering German expertise in rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure.

"We disagreed on the military means," Mr. Voigt says, echoing the tone of Schröder's editorial in Friday's New York Times. "But we definitely wanted stability and are interested in introducing elements of the rule of law and democracy to that region."

The Bush administration has reacted warmly to Germany's pledges. Both Secretary of State Colin Powell and Bush have praised German involvement in the war against terrorism, to which the Bundeswehr has contributed nearly 2,500 troops, mostly in Afghanistan. In a Fox news interview aired this week, Bush showed understanding for Schröder's opposition to the Iraq war commenting that "German people are essentially pacifists" because of their WWII legacy.

Some say the kind words from US leaders, while a welcome trend, are a diplomatic ploy to separate Germany from fellow war opponent France, which will provide the biggest opposition to the Bush administration resolution at the Security Council.

"It's seen as a way of weakening Chirac to get Germany out of the French embrace," says Charles Grant, at the Center for European Reform in London.

However, Voigt and German analysts say it is more about striking a balance between France and the US. The dispute over Iraq marked the end of a German foreign policy that was tightly aligned with that of the United States.

"The old truths that were pushed to the background last year are back to the foreground," says May. "The transatlantic relationship is more important for Germany than for France. That and the Franco-German relationship are two arrows of German foreign policy. And Germany needs both arrows."

In recent months since, Berlin has been trying to urge the multilateralist philosophy of the European Union while at the same time ensuring that the differences in opinion with Washington don't lead to a final break, says Voigt.

"For Germany, multilateralism is a must, for the US it's an option," says Voigt. "We have to learn the US won't be as multilateralist as we want them to be, but they have to understand that it is a must for us."

Underscoring this point, Schröder is set to meet with Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin after his meeting with Bush.

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