- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2005

BERLIN — Angela Merkel’s new coalition government will work toward stronger ties with the United States and scale back on the close relationship outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had with Russian President Vladimir Putin, say officials from both parties in the future Cabinet.

The officials say that foreign policy has not been a divisive issue in the coalition negotiations between Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Mr. Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) since last month’s inconclusive election.

But even though they insist there will be no “major substantive change” under Mrs. Merkel’s leadership, they say Berlin will correct Mr. Schroeder’s excesses in the rift with the Bush administration over the Iraq war and his “special relationship” with Mr. Putin.

“Atlantic partnership and European integration are not mutually exclusive,” said Wolfgang Schaeuble, the CDU’s senior foreign policy spokesman, suggesting that Mr. Schroeder as well as French President Jacques Chirac had demanded that their continental colleagues choose between a united Europe and the United States.

“Failure in Iraq will be a catastrophe maybe even more for Europe than the United States,” he said in an apparent reference to the continent’s proximity to the Middle East.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany William R. Timken Jr. said yesterday that relations between the two countries has been improving since President Bush and Mr. Schroeder met in Germany earlier this year.

A Merkel government would likely accelerate that process, he said.

“If you just read the campaign material, you can see that … her position is one of improving relations further with the United States, so I would expect that the process already going on will be further enhanced,” he told a group of American journalists in Berlin. “It does help when everyone starts new because they don’t have preconceived experiences or conditions in their mind.”

While Germany must retain good ties with Russia, Mr. Schaeuble said, the “Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis” that Mr. Schroeder helped create in opposition to Washington before the war in 2003 has no place on the international stage.

“We are against a ‘special relationship’ with Russia,” Mr. Schaeuble, who will be interior minister in the new Cabinet, told a group of visiting American journalists.

Rudolph Adam, president of the Federal College for Security Studies in Berlin, said in reference to Mr. Putin: “The frequency of the meetings with Vlady will certainly go down.”

Officials from both the CDU and the SPD said Mr. Schroeder’s own party had been surprised by his publicly displayed affection for Mr. Putin and by his handling of the bitter dispute with Washington.

The way the SPD feels about those issues is important because, under the new coalition arrangement, it will appoint the foreign minister.

U.S. officials said they are “looking for a change of tone” from Berlin. One official went so far as to say that Mr. Schroeder’s relationship with Mr. Putin “is not in Germany’s interest,” partly because it scares neighboring Poland.

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