In a possible softening of its strict non-deployment policy in Iraq, Germany's defense minister said he could not rule out sending troops there in the future.
Struck suggested German solders could someday go to Iraq
In a first sign that Germany may be altering its Iraq deployment policy, Defense Minister Peter Struck has said he could someday be open to sending solders to fight in Iraq.
In an interview with the Financial Times newspaper on Wednesday, Struck said that Germany might deploy troops if conditions in the country, now plagued by insurgency, changed.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck
"At present I rule out the deployment of German troops in Iraq," Struck told the paper. "In general, however, there is no one who can predict developments in Iraq in such a way that he could make such a binding statement."
Struck also welcomed US Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's call for an international summit on Iraq. Kerry has maintained during his campaign for the presidency that he would have more success getting traditional US allies and Iraq war opponents like Germany and France to help in Iraq.
In a debate last month with President George W. Bush, Kerry said that if elected he would call for a summit on Iraq.
"This is a very sensible proposal," Struck said. "The situation in Iraq can only be cleared up when all those involved sit together at one table. Germany has taken on responsibilities in Iraq, including financial ones; this would naturally justify our involvement in such a conference."
The comment makes Struck the first member of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government to hint that a rethink on Germany's official stance on the deployment of soldiers in Iraq, may be underway.
Iraqi National Guard recruits fire AK-47 rifles during basic training exercises held on a U.S. Army base in Baqouba, Iraq, Monday, July 26, 2004.
Up to now, Germany has helped train policemen and soldiers outside of Iraq's borders, but has strictly refused to send troops to the country.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on Wednesday renewed his firm opposition to deploying troops to Iraq, a spokesman said, slapping down hints at a change in policy from his defense minister.
"To be clear, we will send no troops to Iraq," Schröder said at a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in response to a question whether Germany would contribute soldiers to a NATO training mission in Iraq.
"There will be no change" in our policy at this point, he added.
Struck's comments have also been played down by the Greens, the junior, mainly pacifist, partner in the ruling coalition .
Green Party defense expert Winfried Nachtwei told German television station ZDF he assumed Struck meant that there would be no deployment of German soldiers to Iraq "really, in the foreseeable future." The comment was just an acknowledgement that no one knows what the case could be in five years, Nachtwei said.
Germany, who along with France was one of the most vocal opponents of the US-led war in Iraq, has categorically refused to send soldiers to Iraq. It has also ruled out sending soldiers there as part of a NATO-led training program for Iraqi soldiers.
Berlin however is currently training Iraqi police officers in the United Arab Emirates as well as offered the use of some of its bases in Bavaria to train Iraqi military recruits. It has also agreed to deliver 20 armored vehicles to Iraq.
Urgent call for aid
Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, right, delivers a speech at an Iraq donors meeting in Tokyo, Wednesday, Oct.13, 2004.
Meanwhile, at a two-day donors' conference in Tokyo aimed at assessing how to spend billions of dollars in aid pledged to the war-shattered nation, an Iraqi official pleaded for greater involvement by the international community.
Interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh told representatives of some 55 countries and organizations that donors should waive the debt from the rule of Saddam Hussein, and that the United Nations should play a more active role in Iraq.
Germany, along with Italy and Russia, is backing a French proposal for an immediate write off of 50 percent of Iraqi debt.
The meeting aims not to raise more pledges, but rather to figure out how to disburse the $14 billion (€11.39 billion) pledged at a donors' conference in Madrid last year.
Saleh urged donors to live up to their past pledges. Only a few hundred million dollars have so far been spent.
"Assistance and aid in the short term is the key to destroying the causes of terrorism," Saleh said. "It is also the only way we can build a sustainable, long-term future for our people."
He urged countries that were holding back on "political or geopolitical grounds" not to delay their support, and noted that "the images of calamity and carnage that you see on television screens do not reflect the reality of Iraq."
Germany pledged more than €100 million to Iraq, about 50 million of that through European Union funds, to which France also contributes.