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Germany

Schröder, Putin See Eye to Eye On Iraq

Germany's chancellor continued with efforts to sidetrack plans for a war on Iraq on Friday -- a move endorsed by Russian President Putin. Meanwhile Germany's citizens pushed ahead with protests against the United States.

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Vladimir Putin and Gerhard Schröder: The latest hurdles for George W. Bush

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the target of growing U.S. criticism, gained political support on Friday from Russian President Vladimir Putin in his attempts to seek a political solution to the conflict with Iraq, officials said.

Schröder and Putin discussed the issue in a phone conversation on Friday. Government sources in Moscow later said both leaders agreed that U.N. weapons inspectors should be given as much time as necessary in their effort to determine whether Iraq possesses weapons of destruction.

The leaders talked three days before chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, presents a report on the results of the findings to the U.N. Security Council. If the report proves to be critical, officials fear that the United States will take steps to unleash the force that it has been massing in the Persian Gulf region for months.

The leaders ' conversation also came as Germans expressed further dismay about comments made by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about Germany and France. In response to a reporter's question, Rumsfeld said on Wednesday: "You're thinking of Germany and France. I don't. I think that's the old Europe."

Rumsfeld was responding to Schröder's announcement this week that Germany would definitely vote against any U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a war on Iraq and French President Jacques Chriac's statement that France and
Germany shared similar views on the issue. The French announcement was significant because France is a permanent member of the security council and could veto
any resolution backing a war.

Opposition expresses understanding

At home, Schröder also gained tentative backing for his stance from some members of the political opposition. Friedbert Pflüger, who speaks for the opposition Christian Democratic Union on foreign policy issues, raised the
possibility that the inspectors' mission also must be extended. "If necessary, they must be given more time," Pflüger said in a television interview. "But we must wait for the Blix report."

In an interview with DW-RADIO, the German coordinator of American-German relations in the Foreign Ministry suggested that Rumsfeld would have to change his views on Germany and France. "The close cooperation is the future of Europe," said the official, Karsten Voigt. "It points the way to a Europe that is capable of acting and because it is capable of acting, it is a relevant partner of the United States."

Later in the interview, Voigt played down the significance of the dispute with the United States over a potential war. " The issue at the heart of the matter is that we and the United States have the same opinion on the need to disarm Saddam Hussein."

Worries about a potential conflict are growing in Germany. According to a poll conducted by one of the country's public television stations, 63 percent of Germans expect that the United States will launch an invasion. Fifty-nine percent said they opposed such an attack, compared with 53 percent last month.

Meanwhile, citizens worried about the potential for war pressed ahead with efforts to organize protests.

Grass joins protest against war

A group that includes novelist Günter Grass, a winner of the Nobel Prize, issued a declaration warning about using war as an instrument of political action. "Nothing justifies a preventive strike against a country whose citizens are already suffering under a dictatorship that abhors human rights and a country that is still suffering from the consequences of the last Gulf War," the group said.

The Protestant Church in Germany issued its own rejection of a conflict for "reasons of ethics and human rights ". In the capital of Berlin and the neighboring state of Brandenburg, churches made plans to form a human chain along a highway on Saturday as a way of warning people about the possible war.

Despite its concerns, Schröder's government took a step on Friday to help the U.S. forces stationed in the country, when it began sending its own soldiers to guard bases used by the American forces. Under the plan, Germany will eventually assign 2,600 soldiers to guard 95 bases and facilities.

"The mission came as a surprise for the military," a spokesman for the German Defense Ministry told DW-WORLD on Friday. It will also create new potential strains for a force that Schröder has said is stretched to the limits by its missions in such places as Bosnia and Kosovo.

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