- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

BERLIN, Feb. 12 (UPI) — Germany said Wednesday a tape the United States claims ties Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein does not prove "links" between al Qaida and Iraq.

"From what is known so far, we don't think we can conclude that there is evidence of an axis or close link between the regime in Baghdad and al Qaida," government spokesman Thomas Steg told reporters.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made public the existence of the tape, which he said would be played on the pan-Arab al Jazeera television network. Al Jazeera, which has aired audio and videotapes from the suspected terrorist mastermind in the past, later broadcast the message that Washington says bears bin Laden's voice.

The voice on the tape can be heard labeling Iraq's leadership "socialist" and its members "infidels."

"Socialists are infidels wherever they are," the voice says. "It does not hurt that in current circumstances, the interests of Muslims coincide with the interests of the socialists in the war against crusaders."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday the tape proved a link between the two.

"He (bin Laden) is exhorting the people of Iraq to engage, to roll up their sleeves, to prepare for jihad, a cause that he shares," he said.

"If that is not an unholy partnership, I've not heard of one," he added.

Germany also said Wednesday that its security agencies were analyzing the tape to ascertain whether the voice was in fact bin Laden's.

Wednesday's statement in Berlin is the latest in a flap over U.S. attempts to disarm Iraq using force.

The United States maintains Saddam has a history of lying to the international community and must be disarmed with force if needed. It has said if the United Nations does not act against Baghdad, it will do so alone.

Germany is against the use of military force and earlier this week vetoed — along with France and Belgium — a NATO bid to aid Turkey if the alliance's only predominantly Muslim member is attacked by Iraq in the event of a war. Both Washington and the German media criticized the move.

The Handelsblatt financial daily dubbed the Foreign Ministry, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's office and the press office a "Bermuda triangle."

"NATO is fighting for its very survival and in Berlin, the last vestige of international predictability, statesmanlike vision and diplomatic skills is disappearing into the Bermuda triangle that is the foreign ministry and government press office," it said.

It said Germany's foreign policy was in complete disarray while Europe was facing its most difficult challenges since the end of the Cold War.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung argued the government had its priorities wrong. It suggested that instead of blocking the NATO move, Germany could have sent troops to Turkey while opposing Washington's Iraq policy.

"Instead, Berlin decided that its opposition to the United States' Iraq policy was more important to it than its obligation to the Alliance," it said. "NATO is thus being sacrificed on the altar of new German foreign policy."

The daily Die Welt said the government's position could prove critical.

"The Berlin-Paris axis does not really augur well in Brussels, in Europe, with NATO," it said. "The cost of this decision will be enormous."

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