- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 21, 2002

BERLIN German Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin acknowledged yesterday that she used the words "Adolf Nazi" in a discussion about President Bush's policies on Iraq, but said she didn't compare the U.S. leader to Hitler.
"It is absurd and slanderous to connect me to a comparison between a democratically elected politician and Nazi leaders," Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin told reporters yesterday.
But her statement did little to quiet the controversy.
German-U.S. relations have been poisoned, declared U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
In an interview published today in the Financial Times Deutschland, Miss Rice said: "How can one mention Hitler and the U.S. president in the same sentence? And above all, how can such a comment come from the mouth of a German when one considers the sacrifices made by the United States when it acted to liberate the Germans from Hitler" in World War II.
"I would say that just now is not a happy time for our relations with Germany. There have been things said which are totally unacceptable. The comments by the justice minister, even if she only said half of what is alleged, are unacceptable."
According to Miss Rice, Germany had created a "poisoned atmosphere."
The southern German newspaper Schwaebischen Tagblatt reported Thursday that Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin, in discussing U.S. policy on Iraq, told the meeting: "Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problem. It's a classic tactic. It's one that Hitler used."
Yesterday, the minister said that in her speech she referred to public debate in the United States about how foreign policy could divert attention from domestic problems: "I then said that we have known this debate since 'Adolf Nazi.'"
But she said she never used Hitler's surname, a sensitive word in post-World War II Germany.
The remark has injected scandal into the tumultuous campaign for tomorrow's election, in which Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder holds a narrow lead over his conservative challenger, Edmund Stoiber.
Mr. Schroeder, who has been slowly climbing in opinion polls with criticism of U.S. plans to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, said that if anyone made such a comment, that person would have no place in his Cabinet, but he did not believe that Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin could have likened Mr. Bush to Hitler.
Yesterday, Mr. Schroeder sought to defuse tensions with the United States in a conciliatory letter to Mr. Bush.
The letter, sent shortly before Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin's latest denial, said: "The minister has assured me that she never made the remarks attributed to her. She has said this publicly, as well."
"I would like to assure you that no one has a place at my Cabinet table who makes a connection between the American president and a criminal," he wrote.
In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said he wasn't convinced by Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin's denials. "The statements made by the justice minister were outrageous and inexplicable," he said. "The president continues to view this as a troubling event."
Mr. Stoiber's Christian Socialist Union and the Free Democratic Party have called for her resignation. But Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin said Mr. Schroeder has not discussed resignation with her.
Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin spent yesterday trying to explain herself to her party leader, Franz Muentefering, as well as to U.S. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats and the press.
She said she has "great respect" for Mr. Bush. "I deeply regret that this has thrown shadows on German-American relations, and I am here to clear that up," Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin said. "I believe that relations between our countries are good despite the unbelievably emotion-charged discussion over the Iraq conflict," she added.
The chief editor of the Schwaebischen Tagblatt newspaper, Christoph Mueller, said yesterday that he stood by Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin's remarks as reported, insisting that several witnesses had confirmed her choice of words.
The newspaper said its reporter had read the quote back to her slowly and asked for permission to use it, to which she agreed.
The remark, meanwhile, has added fuel to the debate on anti-Americanism in Germany.
"When the chancellor awakens an impression that it's not Saddam Hussein, but George W. Bush, that is a threat to world peace, it is only a small step to such an inappropriate comparison," Friedbert Pflueger, the chairman of the Europe committee of the Bundestag, the German parliament, told the German wire service DPA.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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