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Germany: Schroeder To Present Iraq Ideas To Bundestag

  • Roland Eggleston

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder tomorrow will give parliament the Franco-German proposals for averting war in Iraq by extending the mandate of the United Nations inspectors and strengthening their powers. Schroeder's policy on Iraq was warmly supported this week by leaders of his own Social Democratic party, but the opposition Christian Democrats are accusing the German leader of dividing NATO and damaging the country's relations with the United States.

Munich, 12 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is due tomorrow to present the Bundestag with a set of proposals, supported by France and Russia, for averting war in Iraq.

A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said today that the proposals take a dramatically different approach to the one taken by the United States and Britain.

They hand United Nations weapons inspectors ultimate responsibility for disarming Iraq -- forcefully, if necessary, but without resort to war.

The proposals will be introduced at the United Nations on Friday. The Foreign Ministry spokesman said Berlin and Paris believe at least nine of the 15 Security Council members want to continue the UN weapons inspections in Iraq. The United States, however, wants the Security Council to pass a new resolution opening the way for the use of force against Baghdad.

Schroeder said today the proposals are being offered at a time when Iraq is showing more readiness to cooperate with the UN inspectors. He said they were certain to play a role in the upcoming debates in both the UN and the European Union, which is divided on the issue of Iraq. The EU is holding an emergency summit in Brussels on 17 February to discuss the Iraq crisis: "I hope we will be successful [at the EU summit] in returning to a common position [on Iraq]," he said.

The main German opposition party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), said today it had been given only an outline of the proposals but was skeptical that they would persuade the United States and its allies to delay action against Iraq. The CDU said tomorrow's parliamentary debate would not just focus on the new proposals but also criticize the government's failure to support the U.S. over Iraq.

"There will be fireworks," said one CDU member today. The CDU has aligned itself closely with the U.S. position on Iraq and accuses Schroeder of seriously damaging relations with Washington.

The German Foreign Ministry says the paper to be introduced in the Bundestag tomorrow was initiated by France as an extension of proposals made to the Security Council a week ago by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. It proposes doubling or tripling the number of weapons inspectors from the present 119 in order to increase the number of daily inspections. It also says the inspections should be more carefully targeted and more intrusive than in the past. More specifically, inspectors should have the right to brush aside any Iraqi objections to the search of a particular building.

The paper also proposes that the UN create a special unit of armed soldiers to protect the inspectors and suggests that a regional inspection office be established in the west of Iraq. The introduction of mobile customs units with the right to check on goods entering the country is another proposal.

The German Foreign Ministry said today that Schroeder and other members of the government have actively sought to persuade more European governments to join the German-French-Russian initiative but with limited success. Schroeder held intensive discussions this week with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Aznar but admitted today they had been unsuccessful.

But a senior member of his party, Franz Munterfering, told reporters that the German government believed many other members of the United Nations wanted the inspectors to be given more time to check whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction: "We see ourselves as being on the same side as many other countries. They also hope that what we are doing will be successful."

German government spokesmen have claimed several times recently that most ordinary Europeans are opposed to war. In Germany itself, polls show more than 70 percent of the population opposing war. Some polls claim that as many as 80 percent of all Europeans are against a possible war in Iraq.

Earlier this week, Schroeder's governing Social Democratic party (SPD) gave him a strong vote of support for his efforts to avoid a war in Iraq. A closed meeting of the SPD's parliamentary party in Berlin cheered a passionate speech by Schroeder defending his efforts. One of those present told reporters afterwards he was given a unanimous vote of confidence.

But the opposition CDU accuses Schroeder and his government of inflicting what it calls "grievous wounds" not only on the relationship with the United States but also on NATO and on the European Union. The CDU leader, Angela Merkel, says the government's attitude has left NATO facing a crisis of credibility and has broken the unity of the European Union, to the dismay of the new countries about to join.

In an interview today, Merkel said Schroeder poses a danger to Germany: "I have the impression that the chancellor is slowly becoming a danger for Germany and for our entire historical inheritance. That's what worries us today."

Another senior opposition leader, Michael Glos, also said today that Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer were responsible for a new division of Europe and for damaging NATO, and demanded that they resign.

Glos was supported by Edmund Stoiber, the conservative leader of Bavaria, who said parliament should take a vote of confidence in the Schroeder government and if necessary force new elections. Stoiber, who is known for his colorful imagery, said "Schroeder is taking an axe to the roots of the North Atlantic alliance."

Some opposition leaders have suggested that Schroeder's refusal to support the U.S. over Iraq could lead to the United States withdrawing its military protection from Germany. There are still about 70,000 U.S. troops stationed in Germany. Reports out of Washington this week said the U.S. is considering moving some of them to new bases in the East European countries now slated to join NATO.

U.S. officials said discussions on new tasks for the U.S. forces in Europe have been underway for some time and were not prompted by irritation over the recent actions of Germany and France. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said this week that the stationing of U.S. armed forces abroad was still based on the needs of the Cold War. He confirmed that some specialists thought these policies should be reviewed but said this was not connected to the current dispute with Germany over Iraq.