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Germany: Military Participation In Iraq 'Out Of The Question'

Prague, 22 November 2002 (RFE/RL) --- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reiterated in Prague today his election campaign assertion that he will not involve German military forces in a U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

"It remains as we said before (the elections) and afterwards and it remains still true today -- participation in a military action is out of the question."

Schroeder, speaking at a two-day NATO summit in the Czech capital, also confirmed that Germany had received a formal request from the U.S asking for German assistance should the U.S. decide to wage war in Iraq. He did not elaborate on the request other than to say Germany was studying it: "Please understand that the requests from our friends must first be carefully studied, after which we will first give an answer to our American friends and then, after that, inform the public."

Schroeder suggested, however, he would permit U.S. forces to use existing U.S. military bases in Germany during an Iraq campaign. Schroeder said Germany "does not have any plans to put limits on the movements of our friends."

Until now, Schroeder had declined to say if his government would permit the United States to use the bases to wage war on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime.

Defense Minister Peter Struck this week held intense talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Prague on whether Germany would allow the United States overflight rights for an attack on Iraq. Permission would be essential if the Americans were to use their air bases in Germany for the transit of troops and equipment.

Defense Ministry officials say the U.S. wants Germany to offer the use of its mobile laboratories, which are equipped to detect nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Five of these mobile laboratories have been taking part in exercises with U.S. troops in Kuwait since early this year. Germany has at least 30 of these units.

German officials said today relations between Washington and Berlin remain "cool" despite the public handshake between Schroeder and U.S. President George W. Bush in Prague yesterday. Commentators warned that it did not signal an end to the chill between the two leaders because of Schroeder's attitude on Iraq. Opinion polls in Germany show that his approach is still supported by more than 60 percent of the population, even though his government's popularity has sunk to new lows.

German commentators noted that while Bush had time for private talks with French President Jacques Chirac and some other European leaders, he did not meet with Schroeder. Asked about this today, Schroeder said: "naturally we talked briefly with one another, but at such summit meetings it does not always have to lead to bilateral discussions."

At the summit, NATO secured commitments from nine members to increase defense spending substantially. It also won commitments from all 19 members to develop new capabilities where NATO military commanders believe there are substantial deficiencies.

NATO also announced the creation of a new 20,000 man rapid reaction force to undertake combat missions at short notice anywhere in the world. Schroeder's comments were cautious, suggesting the new force should and must work together with a rapid-reaction force already planned by the European Union.

"I said here (in Prague) that we must bring the two together... the 60,000-man European rapid reaction force, which, naturally, will work within the framework of NATO, and NATO's own planned 20,000-man force. They must be brought together. Naturally, there should be no overlapping [of duties]," he said.

Struck pointed to one specifically German problem in regard to the planned NATO force and the suggestion that it should be able to move into action quickly. In Germany, all foreign military operations must first be approved by the federal parliament. Normally, a decision to join a foreign military operation requires a consensus of the entire parliament and not just a majority decision by the government of the day.