- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

MUNICH — Nine days before a NATO summit meant to repair trans-Atlantic ties, Germany denied yesterday that it had begun an attack on the 56-year-old alliance by saying it was in dire need of an overhaul.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, meanwhile, said his country soon will be ready with a new generation of nuclear weapons that is under development.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s call Saturday for a NATO overhaul went down badly at a meeting of international defense officials and dismayed NATO officials preparing a Feb. 22 summit — the centerpiece of President Bush’s first trip abroad since his re-election.

Embarrassed that Schroeder aides conceded the proposal could have been handled better. But Berlin insisted that his call for a panel of experts to present ideas on revamping the alliance was not an attack on NATO, nor on its secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

“I think it was a fantastic speech,” German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said of Mr. Schroeder’s address on Saturday, which was delivered by his defense minister because he had a bout of flu.

“Schroeder wants the opposite of a weaker NATO. He wants to draft a grand design, a new strategic consensus across the Atlantic,” Mr. Fischer said of the chancellor, who with French President Jacques Chirac fell out with Mr. Bush because of their opposition to the Iraq war.

The alliance immediately dismissed the call for the formation of an expert panel on reforms, and a NATO source said the alliance hoped the proposal would slip into oblivion.

“I don’t think it will be in the agenda on February 22. But we are not going to pick a fight over this. Why should we spoil our own party?” said the source, who requested anonymity.

Elaborating on Mr. Schroeder’s speech, Mr. Fischer said Germany wanted NATO to be used more to discuss nonmilitary issues, including areas of dispute across the Atlantic.

“NATO was always more than a simple military alliance. It is the expression of trans-Atlantic civilization,” he said. “But where in NATO do we find debate about the death penalty, the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto process?”

But Mr. de Hoop Scheffer, who already has moved to bring more political discussion into the organization, said NATO “is functioning fine and it doesn’t need a panel of experts to analyze and advise on what we are doing.”

Mr. Ivanov, who also is a guest at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, boasted to reporters that the modernization of Russia’s nuclear arsenal was aimed at quality, not quantity.

“We have every reason to believe it will be a unique system, not possessed by any country in the world,” he said.

“Even these systems, which I hope will quite soon come to the inventories of the armed forces, will not be aimed against any individual country,” he said.

“They will simply allow us to guarantee our security and sovereignty against any threat, absolutely any threat that exists … or could arise in the future.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin first spoke about a new generation of nuclear weaponry last November but gave no details. Mr. Ivanov refused to say in what respect it would be unique.

The minister also said Russia was concerned about U.S.-funded projects to promote civil society and democracy on Russian territory and would not take kindly to the use of such programs to boost foreign influence on the Russian government.

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