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Germany: Fischer Says Berlin Would Not Support Attack Against Iraq

By Roland EgglestonRoland EgglestonRoland Eggleston

Munich, 18 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The left wing of Germany's pacifist Greens party announced in advance of yesterday's party congress in Berlin that they wanted agreement on a motion criticizing the United States for its suspected plan to launch an offensive against Iraq.

The grouping was led by Hans-Christian Stroebele, who was among the Green parliamentarians who declined to support the German government in November when it held a vote of confidence on whether Germany should offer military support to the U.S. in the war against terrorism.

In his speech, Stroebele recalled that in a magazine interview in February, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer -- a leading member of the Greens -- criticized U.S. President George W. Bush for describing Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an "axis of evil." Fischer said then that the international coalition formed to fight global terrorism did not authorize the U.S. to act unilaterally against Iraq or any other country.

Fischer did not retract these comments in Berlin, but he strongly rejected moves by the left wing of his party to condemn the U.S. for what he said is nothing more than rumor and speculation. He reminded the party congress that Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said repeatedly that he knows of no concrete plans for a U.S. offensive against Iraq or any other country.

Fischer also emphasized that there is at present no majority in the German parliament, the Bundestag, in favor of war with Iraq. He said neither the Greens nor most of the governing Social Democrats would vote in favor of German participation in such a war.

Fischer partly appeased some of his opponents in the left wing of his party by criticizing the contents of the latest U.S. "Nuclear Posture Review," leaked to the U.S. media in early March. The review raises the possibility of developing new types of nuclear arms and describes contingency plans for using them against Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and North Korea. Fischer described the review as a "completely wrong approach."

The left wing of the Greens did score a small victory when the congress approved a motion saying that any deployment of German troops on foreign soil should require the approval of a two-thirds majority of the federal parliament. A simple majority currently is sufficient.

German political commentators point out this motion will have no bearing on decisions taken by the Social Democrats, who have a majority in the coalition government.

Another proposal by the left wing of the party concerning the presence of U.S. troops in Europe was settled with a compromise. Defying pleas from Fischer and the co-leader of the Greens, Fritz Kuhn, about half the delegates voted in favor of a motion questioning the wisdom of a "long-term American military presence in Europe." This is a challenge to a passage in the party's election platform supporting the U.S. presence.

After turbulent discussions, Environment Minister Jurgen Trittin, who is also a member of the Greens leadership, persuaded the congress to accept a compromise. It supports the continued presence of U.S. troops in Europe but adds an extra passage, as stated by Trittin: "A further dismantling of the military potential must remain our ultimate goal."

The group around Fischer claimed their biggest victory by winning the debate over changing a major passage in the party program approved in Karlsruhe in 1980. This totally banned the use of force in settling disputes in any circumstances. The new passage approved by the party congress in Berlin says that the use of force cannot replace politics but that the use of a country's legal armed forces can be justified in certain circumstances.

Many German political analysts believe the defeat of the left wing on many issues at the Berlin congress may help the Greens in what is expected to be a difficult campaign to retain seats in the federal parliament in elections in September.

A co-leader of the Greens, Claudia Roth, told the congress that the goal is to win 8-10 percent of the vote and to continue the coalition government with the Social Democrats. However, several recent opinion polls suggest the Greens may find it difficult to reach the minimum 5 percent of the vote necessary to enter the federal parliament.