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Germany

Boosting Latin American Ties

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer flew to New York Sunday at the start of an Americas trip focusing on Berlin's efforts to improve ties with Latin America and gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

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Fischer will meet with Guatemalan President Oskar Berger

On his way to Latin America, Fischer is scheduled to make a brief stop in New York where he will deliver a speech in honor of German-American historian Fritz Stern, who has been awarded a prize from the Leo Baeck Institute, a prominent Jewish research center.

Stern, a professor emeritus at Columbia University, fled Nazi Germany in 1938. The 78-year-old has written numerous books and is considered one of the foremost American scholars on Germany.

On Monday, Fischer will continue on to Guatemala where he meets with his counterpart Jorge Briz, who visited Berlin in October. A foreign ministry spokesman said Friday that the visit is intended to underscore German support for the reform policies of President Oscar Berger and the peace process after Guatemala's devastating civil war.

"With this visit, Germany is pointing the way toward continued German involvement in the Guatemalan peace process," spokesman Jens Plötner said.

Guatemalan peace process

On what will be his first official visit to Central America, Fischer will hold talks with Berger, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu and the outgoing German head of the UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA).

The mandate for MINUGUA, created by the UN to ensure compliance with peace agreements signed between the Guatemalan government and the URNG guerrilla group in 1996 after a long-running civil war, runs out at the end of 2004. Fischer's visit and his focus on the work of MINUGUA is intended to demonstrate Germany's involvement with UN work around the globe as part of a campaign to acquire a permanent set for Germany on the 15-member UN Security Council.

While in Guatemala, the foreign minister will also speak with the UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, and the director of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala, Birgit Gerstenberg.

Next stop: Brazil

On Wednesday, Fischer will travel to Brazil, one of Germany's strongest supporters in its bid for a Security Council seat. The South American country has agreed with Berlin to support each other's ambitions for permanent chairs at the table, where so far only Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States have non-rotating seats and veto powers.

Following their differences with Washington over the Iraq war, Germany and Brazil view an expansion of the Council as central to limiting US "unilateralism" on the world stage.

The plan to increase the number of permanent members on the powerful Council is part of upcoming proposals to reform the institution and has also been backed by India, which hopes to gain a seat as well.

While in the Brazilian capital, Fischer will meet with Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and speak at the German-Brazilian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Sao Paolo -- the largest center for German investment outside the United States and the European Union.

Phasing out nuclear energy

Just ahead of Fischer's visit to Brazil, the South American country agreed to replace its 30-year-old nuclear accord with Germany with an energy cooperation pact to include the use of renewable energy sources.

According to a letter delivered to the German Embassy in Brasilia, the "Brazilian government considers it appropriate to substitute the Brazil-Germany Cooperation Accord on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy with a cooperation accord in the energy sector."

The letter, which was obtained by AFP newswires on Saturday, said the pact had "accomplished its central objectives" and that the "evident progress and diversification of energy generating technologies in the past two decades" justifies negotiating a new type of cooperation.

Germany, which has been working to phase out its own nuclear power plants, has been a strong advocate of encouraging other nations to adopt alternative forms of energy. On Nov. 8, Berlin had written to Brazil requesting a review of the bilateral nuclear accord ahead of Fischer's visit.

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