German Chancellor Schröder continued his efforts to smooth over U.S.-German ties Friday, stressing the “vital friendship” between the two countries one week before U.S. Secretary of State Powell visits Berlin.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and President George Bush have had no personal contact since a NATO summit in November.
Speaking at celebrations in Berlin marking the 100th anniversary of the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany, Schröder said Germany would remain a steadfast ally of the United States despite occasional differences of opinion.
“Along with all the fundamental things we have in common, there are naturally also differences that we should calmly call by name, if we want to deepen our relations even further,” he said, alluding to the rift caused by the war in Iraq.
German-American relations have been strained for months by Schröder’s unrelenting opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. U.S. President George W. Bush was angered by what Schröder has called "exaggerated remarks" made on Iraq during the German election campaign last autumn.
Powell's visit seen as key
Though the two leaders have had no personal contact for over half a year, Berlin has been making conciliatory gestures towards Washington since the end of the war. Powell’s visit next Friday is likely to be critical in helping restore high-level ties between the two countries.
Powell will also use his trip to try to persuade European countries in the United Nations Security Council that opposed the war in Iraq -- namely Germany, France and Russia -- to support Washington in its efforts to repeal economic sanctions against Baghdad now that the regime of Saddam Hussein has been toppled.
Making clear he hoped to put the tension with Washington of the past few months behind him, Schröder said in his speech that he wanted to look toward the future without forgetting how the United States had helped rebuild the German economy and democracy in the aftermath of World War II. But he also reiterated his view that Germany needed to continue to be "reluctant to use military force" to solve conflicts.
EU defense no threat to NATO
Schröder also tried to assuage fears that a recent so-called “mini-summit” on European defense issues could have a detrimental effect on NATO. He said Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg had not proposed strengthening the European Union’s defensive capabilities in order to decouple Europe from the United States, but rather to make the EU a more effective partner in the transatlantic alliance.
“Progress in European security and defense policies are in my view completely in the interest of the transatlantic partnership,” Schröder said.
But Schröder warned no one should try to make Germany pick sides between the United States and France, saying both friendships were important to Berlin. Whereas France has said it was opposed to a unipolar world led by the United States, Schröder said “freedom, peace and justice” should be the only criteria upon which countries should orient themselves.
Speaking just before Schröder, U.S. Ambassador Dan Coats said American-German ties went deeper than mere trade and business relations. Though he did not specifically mention the rift caused by Iraq, he stressed that the two countries needed to work together to meet the challenges of the 21st century. “We have had to face challenges before and we will do so again,” said Coats.