U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met briefly in Berlin today to discuss their differences over the Iraq war and the prospects for future cooperation. It was Schroeder's first meeting with a high-level member of the U.S. administration since Germany opposed the war against Iraq.
Munich, 16 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell described his 30-minute meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder today as frank and straightforward.
"Our conversation was very direct and candid as befits two friends and two allies. We talked about the disagreement of the past and the seriousness of that disagreement, but we also talked about that which pulls us together."
Powell said that differences with Germany ran deep and that it would take time and effort to put the disagreement behind them. However, he noted both countries are trying to reach a common position on lifting UN sanctions on Iraq.
"We are working together on finding a formulation for a resolution [on lifting Iraqi sanctions] at the United Nations that will draw the support of all members of the Security Council, and I was pleased at the chancellor's commitment to move as quickly as we can to lift sanctions entirely, so that we can begin to have the flow of oil, which will generate revenue that will benefit the Iraqi people," he said.
Schroeder told reporters he and Powell had agreed that the United Nations should lift the sanctions imposed after the 1991 Gulf War. Among other things, this would allow Iraqi oil to be sold abroad providing funds for the reconstruction of Iraq after last month's war.
"Of course we talked especially about the Iraq matter," Schroeder said. "We are convinced that the sanctions that were leveled at the time no longer make sense after the developments, and should be lifted as soon as possible."
Despite these comments by Schroeder, commentators noted that Powell did not say that he and Schroeder had overcome past differences over the Iraq war -- or that they had resolved present differences over the future of Iraq, including the role the United Nations might play in its political and economic recovery.
Political commentator Josef Branath said he considered it notable that Schroeder did not mention any of the outstanding problems regarding the lifting of sanctions. One of these is the Russian demand that the sanctions should not be lifted until the United Nations declares that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction.
Some other countries are reluctant to agree to the U.S.-British resolution on lifting sanctions because it would give the U.S. and its allies broad control in governing postwar Iraq.
"It appears that today's talks did not overcome all differences between them, although Germany agrees in principle to lifting the sanctions," he said.
For many German commentators, the key question which remained unanswered in these public comments was whether U.S. President George W. Bush would have a one-on-one meeting with the German chancellor at the conference of G8 leaders in the French city of Evian or at the celebrations for the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg on 1 June.
Powell was noncommittal about such a meeting in an interview he gave to state-run television stations earlier today. When asked directly about a possible meeting at the G8 meeting, Powell replied: "I don't know about a detailed discussion." He said that international meetings like the G8 conference did not offer the same time for talks as a bilateral meeting. He added that Bush and Schroeder would "see each other within the G8 meeting" and would talk with each other in the group.
Powell also described the past few months as "very, very difficult" in regard to relations between the U.S. and Germany. "We had a fundamental difference of opinion and we cannot hide that," he said.
German commentators noted that yesterday President George W. Bush found time for a 15-minute meeting with Roland Koch, the premier of the state of Hesse. It is considered very unusual for the U.S. president to meet a visiting German politician below the national level. Koch is a member of the opposition Christian Democratic Union and strongly supported the U.S. over Iraq. According to the German media, Bush told Koch he could not understand why the Schroeder government refused to support the war.
The media contrasted Bush's willingness to meet Koch with the administration's attitude towards a meeting with Schroeder.
Secretary of State Powell also met the national leader of the CDU, Angela Merkel in Berlin today after his talks with Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. Merkel has said several times that she would have supported the U.S. in the war against Iraq if she had been German chancellor.