German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met Iraqi leaders in Baghdad on Tuesday, Feb. 17 during a surprise visit underscoring Iraq's deepening ties with European nations that opposed the US-led invasion.
Steimeier got a very cordial reception in Baghdad
Steinmeier's two-day trip to Baghdad is the first by a German foreign minister in 22 years and is aimed at strengthening German-Iraqi political and economic relations.
"We extend our hand to the new Iraq," Steinmeier said after arriving in Baghdad. "This is our way of helping the new Iraq on its path toward democratic consolidation and peaceful reconciliation between religions and ethnicities."
Steinmeier met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Steinmeier also officially opened an economic information office in the Iraqi capital.
"The office will help revive what used to be intensive economic relations between Germany and Iraq," said Economics Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg in Berlin.
Oil-rich Iraq offers many business opportunities for German firms
The Iraqi leaders said they had ever reason to believe that their country would greet increased German economic involvement very warmly.
"German companies won't have to undertake any special efforts in order to establish themselves here," Prime Minister al Maliki said. "They used to be very active here and enjoy a fine reputation."
Since the US-led war in Iraq in 2003, which Berlin did not support, German involvement in that country has largely been restricted to some low-key held with post-conflict reconstruction.
In an interview with the German Bild newspaper, al-Maliki said it would be "great if Germany would participate even more in the rebuilding process."
Germany and France put the past behind them
Sarkozy and Talabani were all smiles in Baghdad last week
Steinmeier's trip followed that of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who last week made the first visit to Iraq by a European leader of a state which refused to join the US-led military coalition.
Sarkozy vowed to help Iraq's economic revival and restore historically close economic ties.
"My coming here is to tell French companies: the time is at hand -- come and invest," Sarkozy said during his visit. He said that a high-level French business delegation would follow him to Baghdad by the end of the summer.
The visits by the two leading politicians highlight a shift in European commitment in Iraq after US President Barack Obama took office and a deal was reached for the more than 140,000 US troops in Iraq to withdraw by the end of 2011.