- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

Germany and the United States yesterday pledged to coordinate a reduction of American troops and military bases in Germany in the coming years, a further sign that both sides are moving past the divisions over the Iraq war.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who joined France and Russia in a alliance against the U.S.-led war, makes his first visit to the White House in more than two years later this month.

Officials and analysts say the two sides have been able to find common ground on issues such as terrorism, Afghanistan and even the postwar reconstruction of Iraq.

“The leitmotif of German foreign policy has always been that Berlin did not want to have to choose between France and Europe on the one hand and the United States on the other,” said Cathleen Fisher, associate director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

“Germany still is working closely with Paris on European integration issues, but the government may be looking for a little more balance,” she said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and German Defense Minister Peter Struck met yesterday to discuss the base realignment, with the Pentagon looking to move Cold War facilities and tens of thousands of troops out of Western Europe and focus instead on new, more streamlined outposts in central and Eastern Europe.

Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters in Munich there was “no punishment involved” in the reduction of U.S. forces in Germany, saying the repositioning of American forces was based on new post-Cold War threats and needs.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who attends a major international defense conference this weekend, did not back away yesterday from prewar comments that Germany and France, in opposing the Iraq war, represented “Old Europe,” in contrast to the more pro-American stance of Britain, Spain and the “New Europe” states in the east.

The comment infuriated many European opponents of the war, and last year’s Munich conference, held just a month before the Iraq fighting began, was highly contentious.

“I’m too old to have regrets” about the remark, Mr. Rumsfeld told European reporters yesterday, saying he had not intended the comment as an insult.

Both France and Germany have separately signaled their hopes for improved relations with the Bush administration. Hours after Mr. Struck and Mr. Rumsfeld met, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell held a private lunch while attending a session on Liberia at the United Nations.

France and Germany have been the driving forces behind the effort to enhance the power of the European Union. The Paris-Berlin axis has generated considerable anxiety in many other European capitals, where many fear the two are seeking to dictate the European Union’s future.

Their growing closeness was captured when Mr. Schroeder asked French President Jacques Chirac to represent him at an EU leaders’ summit in October, when the German chancellor was called home to attend a parliamentary vote.

But German officials privately have tried to distance themselves from what they see as the more overt French strategy to use the European Union and other international institutions as a counterweight to U.S. power.

Despite the strains over the Iraq war, Germany and the United States were able to cooperate on a number of other fronts.

German and U.S. intelligence services have worked together in the global war on terrorism, and German troops serve in the NATO peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

Mr. Schroeder’s government has said it will not dispatch troops for the U.S.-led security force in Iraq, but Germany has agreed to train Iraqi police recruits and could send military doctors to aid the reconstruction mission.

Germany also responded positively to the request from President Bush’s envoy, James A. Baker III, to write off debts of the new Iraqi government.

Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters this week on the way to Europe that tensions within NATO are nothing new, waxing and waning depending on the diplomatic challenges of the day.

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