- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

BERLIN — The conservative Christian Democrats and their Free Democratic partners will restore Germany’s alliance with the United States and downgrade Berlin’s ties with Russia if they win elections in September, leaders from both parties say.

In a series of interviews, they also said that they would review their alliance with France, which they intend to keep strong, but warn Paris not to challenge Berlin to choose between the United States and France, as was the case with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, deputy chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) parliamentary group who is in charge of foreign policy, accused Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a Social Democrat, of undermining trans-Atlantic ties.

“We have great interest in close relations with Russia, but they have to be balanced and should in no way be directed against the Atlantic partnership,” said Mr. Schaeuble, who was interior minister under CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl and helped negotiate Germany’s 1990 reunification.

Germany’s neighbor Poland should not be left out of German-Russian developments, and Berlin should be more critical of “the state of democracy in Russia,” Mr. Schaeuble said.

“All this was not respected by Schroeder, and the closeness with Russia went far too far,” he said. “We would change this nonsense and re-establish the balance in German-Russian relations.”

Guido Westerwelle, chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the CDU’s junior partner, said Mr. Schroeder has criticized Washington more often than Moscow.

“It is not acceptable that the German government is often very critical of Washington — sometimes rightfully so — but stays silent on Russian violations of legal matters,” he said. “For example, Mr. Schroeder had nothing to criticize about the verdict in the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.”

Khodorkovsky, an oil magnate and one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leading opponents, was sentenced this week to nine years in prison for fraud and tax evasion.

Wolfgang Gerhardt, chairman of the FDP parliamentary group, said Mr. Schroeder had built an “axis” with Paris and Moscow, which was “neither in the interest of Europe, nor of Germany.”

“We are convinced that this is a mistake,” he said. “European integration will not work against the trans-Atlantic partnership, but together with it, since we share the same values.”

German officials rejected the accusations that Mr. Schroeder has become close with Mr. Putin at the expense of ties with Washington. They said the chancellor has been working well with President Bush since their bitter rift over Iraq.

Last week, Mr. Schaeuble agreed with Mr. Schroeder that the alliance with France is “key” for Germany, but noted that a CDU government would bring back a tradition that he said Mr. Schroeder abandoned.

“We always told France, ‘Don’t make us choose between you and the United States, because we probably won’t choose you,’ ” Mr. Schaeuble told a group of young American leaders on a visit to Berlin organized by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and Germany’s Draeger Foundation.

Mr. Schroeder last week called for early elections after his party suffered a serious blow in a regional vote. Polls give a lead to the CDU/FDP coalition.

As the junior partner in the coalition, the FDP is expected to win the post of foreign minister, and Mr. Gerhardt is said to be the most likely candidate.

Regarding Mr. Schroeder’s campaign to win a permanent seat for Germany on the U.N. Security Council, Mr. Westerwelle said, “The most prudent solution would be a European seat.”

Mr. Schaeuble said the CDU would not reject a German permanent seat, but he argued against a campaign to gain it.

“The campaign created mistrust in Europe and split the EU partners,” he said. “Our interest is to strengthen the common European foreign policy. The campaign does the contrary.”

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