Rice to Prepare Germany for Bush
Rice's brief trip to Berlin, part of a major fence-mending exercise in Europe after the divisions sparked by the US-led war in Iraq, is mainly aimed at smoothing the way for a visit to Germany by US President George W. Bush on Feb. 23.
But her first major diplomatic outing as secretary of state will also enable her to establish better ties with Germany, which has, through Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, played an important role in the so-called Greater Middle East.
While he will be in Southeast Asia during Rice's visit, their talks in Washington last week suggest that international efforts to persuade Iran to give up its suspected nuclear arms program will be a major topic when Rice meets with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
In an interview on Tuesday, Rice said the US appreciated the European effort to reach a diplomatic solution to the crisis but did not want to rule out other options.
Fischer urged closer cooperation between Europe and the United States to deal with the danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would represent and, in particular, asked Washington to become more involved diplomatically.
"For us it is important that we do all we can to bring together the positions in an intense dialogue across the Atlantic so that we can make diplomatic progress," he said.
"We don't want an Iran with nuclear weapons," he continued, adding that it could lead to an arms race in one of the most dangerous regions of the world.
International cooperation in Iraq?
On Iraq, Rice faces a virtually impossible task in trying to convince Germany, one of the major opponents of the war, to play a major role and will certainly not receive any pledge for troops.
"Punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia," she was quoted as saying in 2003 about the war opponents. Rice has since backed away from the formula and on Tuesday predicted a new spirit of international cooperation for Iraq but refused to speak of a US exit strategy. She said the goal was to get Iraq up and running quickly and gradually scale back the American presence.
"I don't think we want to talk in terms of exit strategies," Rice said. "I think we should ask ourselves what can we do now to -- as quickly as possible -- make the Iraqis self-sufficient but also give them the support that they need."
She hailed the Iraq election as opening the door to greater international involvement in the country. President George W. Bush, boosted by the Iraqi election, will use his State of the Union speech Wednesday to seek global support for Iraq, as he lays out top priorities of his second term.
Germany remains firm
Germany has stood firm on its Iraq policy.
"Together with its partners Germany is ready to further support the political process in Iraq," Fischer said. Germany is helping to train Iraq's military outside the country.
"Our position is clear," Fischer said in Brussels on Monday. "While others are talking, we have been giving training, and we will continue to give training. So long as the security situation is as it is, this is not a question of principle, it is a very practical question."
It is also a question of resources. Germany has more troops posted abroad on peacekeeping and anti-terror missions than any other country, bar the United States, and any further deployments would probably be opposed in parliament.
Israel and Palestine
Finally, another of Fischer's prime concerns, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, is also likely to figure high on the agenda of the talks between Rice, who will also visit Israel and the West Bank, and Schröder.
Germany has been perhaps the key European broker in the Middle East, with Fischer adopting the role of an interlocutor who is respected by all sides.