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Germany

Merkel's Party Calls for New Political Approach to Afghanistan

In a paper on transatlantic cooperation published to coincide with the inauguration of Barack Obama as US president, Chancellor Merkel's conservatives call for a new political strategy to end the conflict in Afghanistan.

A US soldier, left, talks on a radio after a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009.

International peacekeepers in Afghanistan have faced mounting attacks in recent years

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc in parliament this week proposed setting up a "contact group" of nations to forge a new political strategy to stablilize Afghanistan.

The group, the document says, should not only include the five permanent UN Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- but also the European Union, Iran and Pakistan.

The policy paper does not specifically mention Iran but German media quoted Andreas Schockenhoff, vice chairman of Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU ) saying the conservatives would welcome Iran's participation.

Germany hopes to include Iran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Ahmadinejad would be included in talks

"Such an initiative, that would include Iran, would benefit if it came to direct talks between Washington and Tehran," Schockenhoff said in comments released by his office.

"The group should aim to reach an international consensus...that the stability of Afghanistan should be an objective of the utmost importance," the paper said, adding that weakening al Qaeda is "a common interest".

"Given the lack of an international consultation forum (on Afghanistan), an international contact group that is legitimized by the UN Security Council, should carry out such an initiative," the paper reads.

A similar idea for a "contact group" to coordinate international strategy in Afghanistan was proposed by former French President Jacques Chirac in 2006, but was not supported by Washington.

Presented on the day of President Barack Obama's inauguration and under the title "For a Closer Transatlantic Partnership", foreign policy experts from the Christian Democrats called on the new US president to look for alternatives to an increase in troops, which Obama has advocated.

Germany bracing for troops request

ISAF soldiers with the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) patrolling on the outskirts of Feyzabad, northern Afghanistan.

Germany will resist any calls from Obama for more troops

Germany is among European nations bracing for demands from the new US administration that they do more in Afghanistan, but the Germans are reluctant to send more troops and believe talks on a new strategy for stabilizing the country are the main priority.

Chancellor Merkel has said that she would not accede to any request from the new US administration to send troops to southern Afghanistan, the scene of much of the heavy fighting against Taliban insurgents. "Wherever Germany commits itself, a wholeness of military and civilian assistance should be visible," she said.

German forces, the third-biggest component in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), are based in safer northern Afghanistan. Other armies have borne the brunt of the fighting in the south.

Merkel skeptical of Obama's Iran policy

Symbolbild Neuanfang zwischen Iran und den USA

Obama is more likely to engage with Iran

Merkel indicated on Tuesday that Obama would draw a blank in Berlin if he pressed Germany to send more troops to Afghanistan, and also expressed doubts on whether Obama's stated wish to talk to Iran would bear fruit. In contrast to President George W. Bush, Obama has said he is open to talks with Iran, a step Germany has welcomed.

"On the European Union side we have held talks with Iran on multiple occasions, but unfortunately very unsuccessfully over a long period of time," Merkel said. "I think it will remain clear that so long as Iran keeps its nuclear program so opaque, and as long as it wants to destroy Israel, there will of course be points when we will say that on this basis we cannot come together."

But she added: "I believe in any case that we should try it."

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