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Berlin Names Afghan Envoy To Coordinate With U.S.

BERLIN (Reuters) -- Germany has nominated a special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying it wants to strengthen coordination with U.S. President Barack Obama's envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the appointment of Bernd Muetzelburg, currently ambassador to New Delhi, underlined Berlin's stance that regional neighbors had to be involved in efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan.

"After the elections in the United States, the U.S. government made clear that we will be dealing more with a regional approach in Afghanistan," Steinmeier said.

"Mr. Muetzelburg will be the contact person for U.S. envoy Mr. Holbrooke, who asked us during the Munich Security Conference last weekend to appoint a contact person. I assume that other European countries will do the same," he said.

Obama has pledged to make Afghanistan a foreign policy priority.

Washington is considering sending up to 25,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but also increasing spending on development assistance to undercut the insurgency now entrenched in the south and east and spreading north and west.

Germany has a parliamentary mandate to send up to 4,500 troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission, and around 3,500 soldiers are deployed at present.

But Berlin says that military action alone will not solve the conflict and defends civilian reconstruction efforts.

Muetzelburg, 64, said Afghanistan was the biggest challenge the international community was facing at the moment.

"I'm looking forward to maybe working even closer with the U.S. government," said Muetzelburg, who will be based in Berlin.

News of Muetzelburg's appointment created a stir in Berlin over the weekend, with some media saying Chancellor Angela Merkel was unhappy about the decision by Steinmeier's ministry.

Muetzelburg, 64, was an influential foreign policy adviser to former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at a time when Berlin clashed with Washington over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and Germany forged close relations with Russia.

The conservative Merkel and the Social Democratic Steinmeier, who rule in an uneasy grand coalition government, are to face each other in an election in September.

Merkel's spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told a news conference he welcomed Muetzelburg's appointment, but added that the chancellery had been informed about his nomination but that the appointment had not been coordinated.