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Germany: Schroeder, Putin Discuss Afghan Peacekeeping Force

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin met briefly in Germany yesterday. Neither leader offered any details about their discussion, but German Foreign Ministry officials said the main topic was Afghanistan and plans for an international peacekeeping force.

Munich, 10 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, returning from an official visit to Greece, made a brief stopover in Germany yesterday. He spent two hours with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at the chancellor's home in Hannover.

In remarks to journalists, the two said they discussed the recent Bonn talks on the political future of Afghanistan and how to implement the talks' conclusions despite traditional hostility between some Afghan warlords and their clans. Schroeder and Putin also discussed the Middle East and said international pressure had to be exerted on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

In Berlin today (Monday), the Foreign Ministry gave more details about the talks, saying the Russian and German leaders had focused on the international peacekeeping force, which the United Nations is expected to approve before the interim Afghan government begins work on 22 December. Creating a secure political zone where the interim government can feel at ease is expected to be one of the most important functions of the force.

The Foreign Ministry said Germany was ready to participate in the peacekeeping force but its exact role would depend on the mandate it was given by the UN Security Council. The ministry said Germany insists that other West European countries like Britain and France also be involved in the peacekeeping effort.

Germany is seeking what is termed a "robust" mandate, meaning the international force would have the right to shoot back if it came under fire.

Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said over the weekend he wanted a mandate according to Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter. This would allow the international force, unlike a traditional UN peacekeeping mission, to use military power to carry out its task.

The deputy director of the German Council on Foreign Relations, Bernhard May, said today most German experts believe the operations of the peacekeeping force should be limited to the Afghan capital Kabul, the nearby airport, and the road between them. He said it was impossible to put together the huge international force necessary to maintain peace throughout a country the size of Afghanistan.

May added that time was running out for the UN to make concrete decisions on the composition of the force and its range of activities. In any case, he said he believed Germany would be able to play a useful role in cooperation with other European countries.

"I am certain that we can play a meaningful role together with other European countries, but it now depends on the UN deciding what it wants."

German opinion polls show strong popular support for German participation in the peacekeeping force. There are few of the divisions evident last month when it was suggested that German troops take a military role alongside the U.S. in fighting the Taliban. The political controversy at the time was so great that Schroeder asked for a vote of confidence from parliament.

The Defense Ministry said today Germany would probably contribute between 800 and 1,200 ground troops, which is all it has available because of its other military commitments in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Macedonia. A spokesman said it was possible that the first German units would be sent to Afghanistan before Christmas.

Political commentators said today it was unclear whether Germany would be asked to lead the international force, but that Germany did want a leading role in the peacekeeping process in Afghanistan. They pointed out that Germany is the current chairman of the Afghanistan Support Group, which has been soliciting Western aid to reconstruct the war-torn country.

Germany is also pushing for a German diplomat, Klaus-Peter Klaiber, to be appointed the European Union's special envoy in Kabul. Until recently Klaiber was NATO's assistant secretary-general for political affairs.

May says he sees Afghanistan as an opportunity to demonstrate that Germany can act like a major power, with none of the hesitation and uncertainties of the past. Schroeder has frequently said Germany should take a more assertive role in world affairs.