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Sizing Up US-German Relations

DW staff (nda)
January 26, 2005

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer met US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington late Tuesday in the first high level bilateral talks since President Bush's re-election.

This way, please: Fischer (left) and Rice during a 2004 meeting in BerlinImage: AP

Although Rice has a European visit planned for early February, Fischer was keen to meet with his future counterpart before she officially takes her post.

It was not only be the first meeting between the two since President Bush's re-election but also the first German-US get-together since then; a chance for both sides to test diplomatic waters which have been choppy and difficult to navigate for some time.

Bush has been making almost conciliatory noises in regards to Europe in the months since his November success and Fischer's arrival in the US capital will be used by the Germans to gauge how far they can expect the transatlantic healing to go at the start of the Bush administration's second term.

"I think if we can take a step nearer in the diplomacy between Europe and the United States, then that is an important step," Fischer said before leaving for the meeting with Rice.

Iraq and Iran still need negotiating

US-Truppen versuchen ins Zentrum von Falludscha vorzudringen
Image: AP

However, the old stumbling blocks are still there. As foreign ministers, Fischer and Rice will have the Iraq debate to chew over. On Tuesday, Fischer made it clear that he did not believe Europe and Germany had to offer more financial help for Iraq, pointing out the "significant material support" Germany was already offering to stabilize the country.

Another issue in coming months will be the increasingly important Iran factor. With Europe continuing to promote diplomacy with Tehran over its alleged nuclear ambitions and with Rice an advocate of a harder line than the one taken by her predecessor, Colin Powell, over Iran, the pitfalls that so nearly damaged German-US relations beyond repair in the recent past will be there to navigate all over again.

Fischer has a strong hand when it comes to Iran. He was part of the three-way diplomatic team of German, British and French foreign ministers that managed to persuade Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment and to continue diplomatic relations.

"Europe and the US have to work hard to find a successful diplomatic solution," Fischer told reporters after his 90-minute meeting with Rice.

Bush loyalist Rice walks the hard line

EU Iran Atomstreit Treffen in Brüssel
The EU is concerned over US policy towards Iran and has maiantained diplomatic ties.Image: AP

However, Rice likely made it very clear that such assurances from Iran mean little to the Bush administration without hard facts to back them up. With rumors of a military option being considered by the US, Fischer will need more than a promise to convince the Americans that the Europeans can handle Iran.

The meeting also gave the two ministers the chance to assess each other personally. Fischer enjoyed a relaxed and respectful relationship with Powell, the highest ranking moderate in the administration at the time of holding office.

Rice, as a staunch supporter and confidante of the president, shared the distrust of the Germans during the build-up to the Iraq war and will carry a harder line into any future negotiations than Powell. While nothing can be predicted, less cordial meetings than before are a possibility.

Much to lose, much to gain

Bush ernennt Rice zur neuen Außenministerin
Condoleezza Rice will test the European waters before President Bush arrives a few weeks later.Image: AP

Rice will return the transatlantic favor by dipping her toe into the European arena in February, just a few weeks before her boss does the same. It is expected that she will smooth the way for the president by meeting with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder ahead of Bush's own summit with the German leader at the end of next month.

Both have much to lose and gain in the next tentative months. Rice will hope to ease tensions between the two nations in a bid to bring Germany back into the fold of useful allies, while Fischer will be looking to gain support for Germany's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. How the two foreign ministers get on personally and professionally in those months could be very important to those and future outcomes.

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