- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

PRAGUE German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who won re-election by vowing not to take part in any U.S. attack on Iraq, softened his opposition yesterday by saying that Germany's NATO bases would be available for a military campaign against Saddam Hussein.
"Of course we do not intend to limit our friends' freedom of movement," Mr. Schroeder said when asked directly if his government would let the United States use bases and airspace if a war with Iraq breaks out.
At the same time, Mr. Schroeder reiterated his objection to sending German troops to Iraq. "There will be no military participation by Germany," he said.
Mr. Schroeder's remarks came at the end of a two-day NATO summit in Prague, in which all 19 members of the alliance endorsed a recently passed U.N. resolution demanding that Iraq disarm or face "serious consequences."
On German radio, Hans-Ulrich Klose, chairman of the Bundestag's foreign affairs committee, said that German troops and its six armored carriers, which serve as labs on wheels and are part of the U.S.-led global anti-terrorism campaign, may have to offer "emergency help if soldiers or Kuwaiti civilians face danger."
"If push comes to shove, we could not refuse that," Mr. Klose said.
German opposition leaders yesterday were quick to accuse the chancellor, who won re-election in September largely on opposing a war against Saddam, of breaking his promise.
"Now he has to decide whom to cheat his voters or our allies," said Edmund Stoiber, the defeated challenger from the Christian Democratic Union.
On Thursday, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer hinted at a possible change of heart by Mr. Schroeder's Cabinet, saying it would have to consider giving U.S. aircraft overflight rights and access to military bases.
In his comments yesterday, the chancellor refrained from repeating his previous statements that a war in Iraq would be a "mistake" and would bring even more chaos to the Middle East by sparking renewed terrorism activity.
A statement issued after the NATO summit said:
"We deplore Iraq's failure to comply fully with its obligations. NATO allies stand united in their commitment to take effective action to assist and support the efforts of the U.N. to ensure full and immediate compliance by Iraq."
The communique gave a boost to President Bush, who has been trying to round up support for disarming the Iraqi leader in a "coalition of the willing."
Mr. Bush chatted with Mr. Schroeder, in front of photographers, at an official dinner before the summit's opening on Wednesday night in what Mr. Bush called a "cordial" encounter.
The Wednesday talk was the first time they had met since the German election campaign, which the White House sharply criticized as riddled with anti-American sentiment.
"I made clear to Bush that there was never any question of calling his personal integrity into question," Mr. Schroeder told reporters on Wednesday night. "In politics, as in private life, there are often differences of opinion. You thrash them out in a friendly way. That is what happened."
Mr. Bush said Germany is "an important friend of the United States" and "we've got a relationship to maintain."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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