Three visiting lawmakers from Germany's three major political parties all agree that relations with the United States have improved under conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel and that parliament has no intention of withdrawing German troops from Afghanistan.
Norbert Lammert, president of the German parliament and a member of Mrs. Merkel's Christian Democratic Party; Petra Ernstberger of the Social Democratic Party; and Werner Hoyer of the opposition Free Democratic Party reviewed U.S.-Germany relations in a wide-ranging discussion of issues facing Europe, when they held a briefing this week at the American Institute of Contemporary German Studies in Washington.
They also agreed that Europe sees no need for President Bush's plan to install an anti-missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland as part of a global defense against attacks from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, according to our correspondentBen Tyree.
The proposed system has enraged Russian President Vladimir Putin, who claimed that his country would be threatened by the missiles and that they might set off a new arms race.
"A common threat analysis does not exist" in Europe, Mr. Lammert said. "Initiatives by the Czech Republic and Poland leads to credibility problems for Germany. Mr. Bush has said the missiles are not aimed at Russia, but the Poles and Czechs are only talking about the threat or risk from Russia."
Mr. Hoyer said at some level an anti-missile defense made certain sense but that the increase in security for Poland and the Czech Republic is "not good for the cohesion of NATO." He also said there is no chance at this time that the German parliament will remove its 2,000 troops from Afghanistan.
Aside from that disagreement over the missile-defense system, they noted improvements in most other areas of U.S.-Germany relations since the previous government of socialist Gerhard Schroeder, who whipped up anti-American fever over the war in Iraq.
On other issues, Mr. Hoyer said he is "disturbed by events in Russia" because of Mr. Putin's increasingly authoritarian policies and expressed his worries about the future of Russia after Mr. Putin, who remains popular among a majority of Russians, finishes his second term. The Russian Constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms.
The United States and Europe "must try to get Russia off a dangerous track," Mr. Hoyer said.
"The state of law deteriorates daily. However, improved general living conditions put Putin in a strong position," he said, adding that Mr. Putin "now has more power and freedom of action than any Russian leader since Stalin, perhaps since czarist times."
On the future of the European Union, Mr. Lammert observed that a new, modified EU constitution to replace one rejected by France and the Netherlands two years ago will create a commissioner of foreign affairs who will be a "foreign minister in all but name."
That could prove to be a problem for many Eastern European nations that, after the collapse of communism, joined the bloc as a union of independent states, not as a sovereign superstate of 27 member countries.
Mrs. Ernstberger said, "The enlargement [of the EU] to the east was quite recent. Eastern Europe had not had national rights for a long time. Now that they have those rights they [are called upon] to give some of it to the EU after a short time."
Detained in Bolivia
An American woman with ties to the U.S. Embassy was detained at La Paz airport for attempting to enter Bolivia with 500 rounds of .45-caliber ammunition, the Associated Press reported yesterday.
Donna Thi, 20, was taken into custody by Bolivian immigration officials Wednesday night.
Immigration Director Magaly Zegarra said Miss Thi was met at the airport by Zanbria Campbell, wife of a military liaison at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Col. James Campbell.
U.S. Embassy representative Denise Urs said, "There was an ignorance of the provisions of Bolivian customs. The case is under investigation, and there are no charges currently filed."
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