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Germany

Germans Question US Nuclear Weapons

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called Thursday for progress to be made on strengthening disarmament measures -- but an opposition demand that the US pull its nuclear weapons from Germany has fallen on deaf ears.

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Liberal leader Westerwelle wants US nukes out of Germany

Ahead of next week's five-yearly review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Teaty (NPT) in New York, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called Thursday for progress on strengthening disarmament measures.

"We have two expectations from the talks," Schröder said in a press conference with visiting New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

"The first is that we reinforce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as it is now and we need to put all our efforts into that," he said. "The second is that there is a credible disarmament mechanism and we hope we will see movement from countries on this point."

Joschka Fischer und Helen Clark

Clark (photo, with Joschka Fischer) said she hoped the meeting would focus on "striking a balance and ensuring that a country's right to produce nuclear energy does not provide cover for developing nuclear weapons." She pointed out that Germany, Britain and France should be congratulated for their efforts on attempting to obtain guarantees from Iran that it will not use its nuclear program to build weapons.

Focus on North Korea

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will lead the German delegation at the conference in New York which begins Monday and lasts until May 27.

Attended by diplomats from some 190 countries, it will re-examine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was first introduced in 1970.

Nordkorea gibt Besitz von Atomwaffen zu

The US is expected to push for discussions on tightening NPT rules that have been either bent or broken by, for example, Iran and North Korea.

North Korea is set to be a major talking point at the conference. The communist state said this month it had shut down a nuclear power plant and was preparing to re-process the plant's spent fuel, a move that could result in the production of enough plutonium to build up to six more nuclear bombs.

US in the hotseat

USA Haushaltsentwurf 2006 George Bush

But the US may well come in for some criticism itself. President George Bush's track record of tinkering with international anti-nuclear rules has prompted critics to say Washington is top among those undermining the authority of the NPT. Bush has refused to support a test-ban treaty, threw out the anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia, and is still dragging his feet on negotiating a global treaty to end the production of fissile material for bombs.

To many, Washington's perceived double standards set a bad example when it comes to negotiations with countries such as North Korea and Iran.

The US Energy Department, meanwhile, is keen to promote plans to make stockpiled warheads less sensitive to ageing, thereby saving on weapons maintenance and cutting back its stores.

FDP gets tough on nuclear weapons

US Soldaten in Deutschland Flugzeug Ramstein

It's a matter with particular relevance in Germany, where the nuclear question unexpectedly reared its head again this week. In the Bundestag, the opposition Liberal Democrats (FDP), with backing from the Green Party, called for an immediate withdrawal of some 150 land-based US nuclear weapons still housed on German soil -- a surprise move from a party generally known for its staunchly pro-American stance.

But party leader Guido Westerwelle described the weapons as a relic of the Cold War, and pointed out that the credibility of the NPT depended on states coming through on their pledge to disarm.

According to Article II of the NPT, ratified by the US in 1970 and Germany in 1975, " Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly."

"It's time to reconsider whether their presence still serves a relevant purpose," Liberal Democrat MP Werner Hoyer told German weekly Der Spiegel. Harking back to the days of the Iron Curtain, most of the 480 US nuclear weapons stored in Europe are located in Germany, strategically closest to eastern Europe.

The German delegation in New York, however, is not expected to raise the issue. For the time being, it's reluctant to rock the boat of transatlantic relations.

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