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Opinion: Chipping Away at the Transatlantic Iceberg

After months of giving each other the cold shoulder, the ice age in German-American politics appears to be over -- or at least thawing out.


Schröder and Bush's meeting on Wednesday only brushed the surface of the Iraq issue.

They might never be friends, but at least U.S. President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder are on speaking terms again. After agreeing to bury the hatchet in a private meeting on Wednesday, the two leaders went public with their professions of mended ties.

For 16 months icy silence had been the rule of the day -- a long time for two countries who are not only connected economically, but have also considered themselves close partners, even friends. Now the two are no longer angry with one another, and Schröder can breathe a little more freely after having resumed personal contact with the American president.

Starting off on a positive note, Bush declared an end to the bickering between Germany and the United States over the Iraq war. The chancellor was quick to second him. "It’s over for me too," he said, brushing away the last year or so of bad relations with Washington. And the path was open for an exchange of opinions and discussion on more substantial issues.

Not quite partners in Iraq

In a television interview prior to Wednesday’s meeting with Schröder, Bush addressed the motives behind the German opposition to the Iraq war. That was something new, a first for the president, who up until then hadn’t shown a bit of interest in Germany’s position.

Now that Schröder and Bush are talking it all out, they’re focusing on what connects them -- German involvement in Afghanistan, which Bush praised, for instance. On the issue of Iraq, however, the two haven’t really moved much closer.

The German chancellor remains firm in his position: The United Nations must play a central role in Iraq and the transfer of power to civilian authorities must take place as quickly as possible. Bush sees the situation differently, and he’s not prepared to budge from his stance.

Thus, the two have agreed to agree on those areas free of conflict, namely that Germany will help out a little with the rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure -- it will send technical assistance, repair water pipes and train Iraqi police. Bush has given his nod to the German gesture, but he’s not reliant upon Germany’s brand of help. What he needs is soldiers, lots of them, and lots of money for stabilizing Iraq, both of which he won’t get from Schröder.

Friendship based on need

So that can’t be the driving motive for re-establishing contact across the Atlantic. Rather it was the recognition that a grudging attitude would sooner or later lead to a dead end at a time in which international terrorism threatens both sides of the ocean.

Schröder and Bush are on speaking terms again, but their gestures and facial expressions tell a different story, one full of pragmatism and absent of any emotionalism. In the future the relationship between the two leaders will be matter-of-fact at best, and the rhetoric will drop down a notch.

There’s no plan for further face to face meetings, and the positions on Iraq don’t look like they’ll change much in the near future.

It’s now up to the foreign ministers to hammer out the next United Nations resolution on Iraq and then it’s back to day-to-day life in German-American relations.

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