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Germany

Germany's Fischer Says U.S. Visit "Successful"

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer took warm stock of his four-day visit to the U.S. and offered humanitarian aid but no troops to Iraq.

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German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was in high spirits during the final leg of his U.S. tour.

An upbeat German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer met the press gathered in front of the White House on Thursday, after talks with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney – his last stop on his four-day visit to the U.S.

Fischer praised the sunny weather and the German-American relationship, said he had good and open discussions with Cheney and added he was generally pleased with the " receptive audience" he had come across in Washington.

Concrete "European-American" cooperation

Fischer said in a German television interview discussions in recent days with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as well with Vice President Cheney had ranged from regional crises right from Afghanistan to Iran the Middle East and the importance of doing all they could in keeping the peace in the regions.

"Overall we Europeans can make important contributions here, even in the Middle East conflict," Fischer told the ARD television channel. Earlier in the week Fischer, on his first trip to the U.S. since November last year, had underlined the significance of transatlantic cooperation in crisis regions including Iraq. "To secure peace is of common interest to Europe, my country and the U.S.," he said.

Humanitarian aid, but no troops to Iraq, as yet

However Fischer’s stance remained unchanged on the central question of whether Germany would provide military help to stabilize postwar Iraq. "We didn’t speak about a possible military contribution. There were neither any concrete demands from the American side, nor readiness on our part to change our position," he said.

Speculation has been mounting in Germany in recent days of whether it will provide troops to Iraq after a U.S. Senate decision last week to ask NATO for military reinforcements. Continuing resistance from Iraqi groups, mounting American and British casualties and rising costs of maintaining a huge peacekeeping operation in Iraq has forced the U.S. to seek broader international support.

However Fischer consistently emphasized during his four-day U.S. tour that the German army, presently on foreign mission in three different continents, was too overstretched to handle a further foreign deployment.

He also made clear the German government could not even consider such a U.S. request unless there was a specific United Nations mandate to legitimize their presence in Iraq. "I think the relevant Security Council Resolution 1483 made it quite clear that the responsibility on the ground is in the hands of the coalition," Fischer told reporters on Wednesday. "We are not part of the coalition." Fischer at the same time emphasized the U.S. had not yet officially asked NATO for support in Iraq.

But the foreign minister did offer humanitarian help. "We have expressed our readiness to provide humanitarian help and even earmarked the relevant funds," Fischer told the ARD. "I also told the Americans that the German industry is ready to provide its contribution for the financial reconstruction of Iraq if so desired," Fischer said. "However as long as there is no concrete wish list, it’s very difficult for us to say anything for sure," he added.

"Ice-breaking diplomacy"

Fischer overall took positive stock of his trip saying it was "very successful" and the atmosphere "excellent." "There’s more openness, I’m taking that impression home with me," he said.

However he was evasive about whether there was a possibility of German Chancellor Schröder travelling to the U.S. anytime soon. "Our relationship is based on a strong fundament and it can withstand differences of opinion. However the question of a possible chancellor visit didn’t play any role," he said.

Relations between U.S. President Bush and German Chancellor Schröder have been strained ever since the German leader vehemently opposed the U.S.-led war against Iraq and the two haven’t had a personal meeting since last summer when the U.S. president visited Germany.

However one of the strongest symbols that Fischer’s trip had made a definite contribution towards thawing the soured transatlantic relationship came during a lighter moment with Powell on Wednesday.

The secretary of state surprised his German counterpart by producing an empty case of beer during a formal State Department lunch. "I have this beautiful gift for you," Powell announced to peals of laughter. The lager had been gifted to Powell on his last visit to Berlin in May because he had once mentioned he missed the old-fashioned, re-saleable bottles, which could be put back in the fridge for later and cooler consumption. "Talk about a knack for ice-breaking diplomacy," he quipped.

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