- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

German support for the latest U.S. policy moves in Iraq reflects a growing feeling at home that Germany has grown too close to France with its strident opposition to the U.S.-led campaign.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, visiting Washington this week, was unstinting in his remarks welcoming the U.S. commitment to hand over sovereignty to a transitional Iraqi government by the end of June.

“It is a very important step forward,” he said. “We’ll have now a timetable for a transition of authority and sovereignty to an Iraqi government.”

That stood in sharp contrast with the reaction of his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin, who criticized the decision in an interview with the French Catholic daily La Croix. “My feeling is that [the June 30 deadline] is too late,” he said.

President Bush praised German peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan in an interview with British reporters ahead of his visit to London.

“Obviously there was some disgruntlement about the decision made on Iraq,” Mr. Bush said. “But I would remind you that Germany has troops in Afghanistan supporting that mission there, for which we are very grateful. They are doing a darn good job.”

The thaw comes amid growing concern in Germany that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s government had damaged its own interests by getting too close to Paris.

Ulrike Guerot, of the government-subsidized Research Institute of the German Council on Foreign Relations, said the antiwar alliance had driven Germany into “a French trap.”

Opinion polls show that most Germans still see France as their most reliable ally. A study by the Ipsos Institute for the Federal Association of German Banks said 56 percent subscribed to that view, compared with 28 percent who considered the United States more reliable.

But recent editorials in the country’s two biggest newspapers voiced unease with the German-French relationship. “If Germany wants to lead in Europe, it must not let itself be represented by France,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung said.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, said after meeting with Mr. Fischer yesterday that he did not see the German endorsement of the new U.S. policy in Iraq as moving away from France. “I don’t see that [the Germans] have to choose,” he said.

Rep. Doug Bereuter, Nebraska Republican and former head of the Congressional Study Group on Germany, said opposition to the Iraq war provoked far more anger in America toward France than Germany.

“There wasn’t a big change [in U.S. attitudes] because the reaction in this country in public and in Congress was focused on France,” he said in an interview.

The U.S.-German relationship deteriorated last year during Mr. Schroeder’s re-election campaign, in which he opposed sending troops to Iraq under any circumstances. Matters worsened when a German Cabinet minister accused Mr. Bush of starting the Iraq war to divert attention from domestic problems, applying a tactic “that Hitler also used.”

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