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Germany's Fischer Offers Diplomacy Lesson

During his visit to the United States this week, Joschka Fischer sought to show that Germany and the U.S. have reconciled. For the most part he succeeded, but a new security partnership will require more.


Joschka Fischer was in a tricky position on his first visit to the United States since the Iraq war. The German foreign minister had to practice damage control there, without giving people at home the impression he was eating humble pie.

Fischer stuck closely to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's insistence that Germany will not send troops to Iraq for the time being. On the other hand, he indicated that his country would be willing to cooperate in rebuilding Iraq -- providing humanitarian relief and technical aid in reconstruction efforts. The issue shouldn't hinder improving German-American relations.

Fischer's appearance in the American media was well-orchestrated. During the Iraq crisis U.S. journalists accompanied assessments of Germany's role with predominantly negative commentary.

Yet this time, Fischer's interviews were a lesson in effective public diplomacy. He managed to rectify many a misunderstanding and make the prospect of future transatlantic cooperation appealing for the U.S. audience.

The timing was auspicious, too, since Americans are increasingly questioning whether it was right to go to war against Iraq.

Business-like talks

Berlin and Washington communicate with each other on the basis of a business-like foundation -- illustrated by talks with Fischer and numerous visits to Washington by other German ministers in the preceding months. Whether they can now develop a new strategic partnership, which Fischer would like, depends on various factors, not lastly on how aggressive the U.S. pursues its campaign against terrorism.

And Berlin can also contribute to a positive development. The government must ensure that NATO remains the primary instrument of security policy. A European defense policy that America perceives as competing with NATO would poison bilateral relations.

And German politicians must make it clear to their public that the threat of terrorism is a global problem not just an American one.

If they succeed, the much-evoked "community of values" could develop into a new security partnership that would fulfill the demands of the 21st century.

Daniel Scheschkewitz

Daniel Scheschkewitz, Deutsche Welle

Daniel Scheschkewitz is Deutsche Welle's Washington correspondent.

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