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Europe

Schröder Slammed Over NATO Reform Idea

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was heavily criticized on Monday for urging an overhaul of NATO, with some observers saying his remarks could damage ties with the United States.

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Schröder might have difficulty convincing his NATO partners

Schröder's remarks came in a speech, read by Defense Minister Peter Struck, at a Munich security conference over the weekend in which he said NATO "is no longer the primary venue where transatlantic partners discuss and coordinate strategies."

Javier Solana, the European Union's top foreign policy representative, soundly rejected the chancellor's initiative. "NATO has not lost any of its relevance. One shouldn't dramatize things that aren't dramatic," he told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper on Monday.

In an interview with German broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also rejected the criticism that the alliance was not an appropriate forum for political matters. "The alliance is both militarily and politically active in order to tackle present challenges," he said, adding NATO would remain the primary place for transatlantic consultations. "That was the case in the past, is the case now and should, in my opinion, stay that way."

The German press acknowledged that Schröder had been ill, but said Struck had been ill-prepared, unable to say whether the chancellor wanted the military alliance dissolved, and that German aides were surprised and disappointed.

New transatlantic tension?

The daily Die Welt headlined with "Schröder Alienates His NATO Partners" and puts new strains on relations with Washington, which were already badly frayed by Germany's opposition to the US-led war in Iraq. "If Europe's most important NATO partner starts questioning the Alliance, a new Atlantic crisis will erupt," the country's most widely-read newspaper, Bild, said in an editorial.

"In the way he conveyed the idea he has done serious if not irreparable damage," the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote, adding that the chancellor had "left the NATO secretary general thinking he is doing a bad job."

In his speech, Schröder also urged the European Union and the United States to set up a panel of senior and independent officials to analyze new ways to boost transatlantic relations. "This panel should submit a report to the heads of state and government of NATO and the European Union by the beginning of 2006 on the basis of its analysis and proposals. The necessary conclusions could then be drawn," he said.

Schröder's unusually strong remarks, less than two weeks before a NATO summit, follow a visit to Germany this month by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who invited Berlin to demonstrate that it is willing to improve its relations with Washington. Rice, whose visit will be followed by US President George W. Bush on February 23, urged Germany to play a greater role in Iraq following the landmark elections there last month.

Schröder, who vehemently opposed the US-led war to oust Saddam Hussein, appears likely to expand Germany's role in training Iraq's overwhelmed police and military forces within the framework of NATO.

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