At an international security meeting in Munich, Germany calls for the creation of a new U.S. and European peace plan for the Middle East as Donald Rumsfeld again explains Washington’s justification for the Iraq war.
Joschka Fischer appears more optimistic at this year's international security conference.
One year after their famous sparring match over the planned Iraq war, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld again came together in Munich on Saturday. Though the trend in the transatlantic relationship is upward, discomfort between the two countries was still palpable at the 40th International Security Conference here as Fischer defended Germany’s opposition to the war and Rumsfeld once again defended the U.S.-led invasion.
"The Federal Government feels that events have proven the position it took at the time to be right," he said. "It was our political decision not to join the coalition because we were not, and are still not, convinced of the validity of the reasons for war."
Still, Fischer said it was crucial that the war be brought to a successful conclusion and that peace be found. "For a failure would have had equally damaging consequences for us all, for Europe as for America, for pro-war and anti-war countries," he said. "This conviction informed Germany's position during and after the war on Iraq."
Germany: no troops for Iraq
Fischer also expressed "deep skepticism" of any kind of NATO mission in Iraq, adding that Germany would not stand in the way of such a mission but neither would Berlin send any troops. He also repeated German demands that the United Nations be given a central leadership role in Iraq.
The foreign minister called for a "sustainable long-term reform process in the region as a whole," without which it would be impossible to bring lasting peace.
"Notwithstanding the controversy about the war in Iraq, we have long shared the view that following Sept. 11, 2001, neither the U.S. nor Europe and the Middle East itself can tolerate the status quo in the Middle East any longer," he said.
"The Middle East is at the epicenter of the greatest threat to our regional and global security at the dawn of this century: destructive jihadist terrorism with its totalitarian ideology. This brand of terrorism does not only pose a threat to the societies of the West, but also and above all to the Islamic and Arab world."
Germany offers new peace plan
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, center, stands with German Defense Minister Peter Struck, left, and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to wait for the start of the 40th Munich Conference on Security Policy in Munich, southern Germany, Saturday, Feb. 7, 2004. (AP Photo/Diether Endlicher) Spezialbild
Additionally, Fischer proposed a new transatlantic initiative in the Middle East structured around NATO. "In order to succeed, the European Union and the US should, in view of this major challenge to our common security, pool their capabilities, assets and projects to form a new transatlantic initiative for the Middle East."
The foreign minister’s plan would come in two phases. First, NATO countries would come a common Middle East policy while, simultaneously, Europe and the U.S would further expand economic ties and possibly establish a free-trade zone with the Middle East. Northern African countries and the entire Arab League would be brought into the dialog in order to stop terrorism that is taking root there. Afterwards, the countries would create a binding agreement calling for them to disarm and renounce violence.
"If the states of Europe and North America work together strategically as partners in the European Union and in NATO in response to the common threat," Fischer said, "and if they bring their particular abilities and strengths to bear in a new cooperation with the states of the Middle East, then we can make this truly paramount contribution to our joint security."
But Fischer said military missions means would not be enough to halt the violence in the Middle East.
"We cannot counter the threat of this new totalitarianism by military means alone. Our response needs to be as all-encompassing as the threat. And this response cannot be issued by the West alone. If we were to adopt a paternalistic attitude, we would only inflict the first defeat upon ourselves. Instead we must formulate a serious offer based on genuine cooperation, an offer to work together with the states and societies of the region."
Rumsfeld: "World is a safer place"
U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, however, took a different view. "The world is a safer place today because the coalition liberated 50 million people – 25 million in Afghanistan and 25 million in Iraq," he told his audience of experts.
Rumsfeld only fleetingly addressed Fischer’s proposal. The Mediterranean Dialog at NATO needs to be put on the agenda for the coming NATO summit this summer in Istanbul. Still, NATO needs to strengthen its participation in the war against terrorism in the future as the threat of weapons of mass destruction are greater than ever, he said.
"Unless the spread of terrorism is stopped, attacks will grow bolder and still more deadly."
The defense secretary also offered an alternative view of NATO cooperation, saying that numerous NATO troops are already deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with some members stationing soldiers in both places.
"Some 24 of the 26 NATO allies and invitees already have forces in either Afghanistan or Iraq and 17 of them have forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. Rumsfeld also praised NATO, noting its development in recent years and the numerous military missions it has undertaken.