Germany's incoming Foreign Minister Steinmeier has ruled out any major foreign policy changes in transatlantic ties, particularly on Iraq. But he's said better relations with Poland will be a top priority.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who will join a power-sharing government under conservative leader Angela Merkel due to take office this month, said on Wednesday that there would be no major change of course in Germany's policy towards Iraq.
"I believe there won't be any fundamental change," Steinmeier said in an interview with public television broadcaster ARD, adding that he didn't have the impression that Washington would make demands on the future German government such as sending German soldiers to Iraq.
The 49-year-old Steinmeier, a close ally of outgoing chancellor Gerhard Schröder, said that the Bush administration was savvy enough to realize that Germany was already fulfilling its responsibility towards rebuilding Iraq by contributing to training Iraqi security forces.
Earlier this week, the US was reported to have requested Germany to expand its activities in Iraq. But, a representative of the US State Department in Berlin stressed that it didn't include sending German soldiers to Iraq.
Schröder's government vehemently refused to participate in the US-led war in Iraq two and a half years ago, sparking unprecedented tensions and sending transatlantic relations plummeting to an all-time low.
On Wednesday, Steinmeier announced that he would undertake efforts to further improve relations with the US, which have eased considerably in recent months. "To do nothing would surely not be good advice," said Steinmeier, pointing out the Social Democrats and conservatives had made it clear in their coalition deal that the transatlantic relationship and European integration would be the two pillars of German foreign policy.
Emphasis on Poland
As far as the latter goes, Steinmeier has indicated that Poland will be top priority.
Steinmeier told the in-house newspaper of his Social Democratic Party, Vorwärts this week that he had phoned his designated Polish counterpart Stefan Meller immediately after the latter was appointed.
"We agreed that there have been tensions on both sides," he said. "The problems have not been resolved but we intend to do that soon. That is why one of my first trips will be to Warsaw."
Relations between Berlin and Warsaw have been strained over plans by a German group to build a center of remembrance in Berlin for Germans who were expelled from Poland after the war in reprisal for the Nazi invasion of their country.
There has also been friction over demands for the Polish government to restore property to German families who were driven out during the war.
Warsaw is also displeased with Russo-German plans to build a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Poland and the Baltic states which would miss out on lucrative deals.
Steady continuity with key allies
Steinmeier has also promised continuity in relations with all key allies.
"The foundations of our foreign policy will remain: close partnership with France, reconciling with our eastern neighbors -- above all with Poland -- and deepening the transatlantic friendship."
He acknowledged that the conservatives had criticized outgoing chancellor Schröder's friendly ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign for the September election, but said it would have no impact on future policy.
"There is nothing in the coalition agreement (with the conservatives) about that criticism," he said.
"To the contrary, the idea of a strategic partnership (with Russia) is explicitly mentioned in the agreement."
On Turkey, Steinmeier said he was pleased the conservatives had been unable to force through their "gruff rejection" of Ankara's EU bid or the mention of a "privileged partnership" that would stop short of full EU membership.
"The coalition partners commit themselves (in the pact) to open-ended accession negotiations with Turkey with the goal of EU membership. A privileged partnership is not described as a goal."