Berlin — German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder moved to repair strained relations with the United States, accepting the resignation of a Cabinet minister Monday who reportedly had compared President Bush to Adolf Hitler, but he stuck by his firm opposition to war with Iraq.
Speaking a day after he narrowly won re-election with a campaign that repeatedly condemned U.S. talk of war, Schroeder said: I think this difference of opinion will remain. We will have it out in a fair and open way without in any way endangering the basis of German-American relations. That is my firm intention.
Of his policy on Iraq, he said, We will change nothing.
Schroeders campaign strategy damaged his personal relationship with Bush, seriously frayed nearly 60 years of close U.S.-German ties and bewildered key European allies, U.S. and European officials and analysts said Monday.
The diplomatic damage caused by Schroeders pitched opposition to any attack on Iraq will not be easily repaired, even if he finds a way to support or merely acquiesce to a U.N.-mandated operation, which he ruled out again Monday, the officials said.
U.S. officials continued to publicly express dismay with Schroeder. During a visit to Warsaw, the Polish capital, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the electoral campaign had the effect of poisoning the relationship. And while the routine diplomatic congratulations reached Schroeders office from London, Brussels and Paris, there was silence from Washington.
Monday morning, Schroeder began the first in an expected series of acts of fence-mending by accepting the resignation of his justice minister, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, who was quoted by a German newspaper last week as saying Bush, like Hitler, has used talk of war to divert attention from domestic concerns.
The resignation of another top politician who had made disparaging remarks about Bush was also announced. Ludwig Stiegler, head of Schroeders Social Democrat party in the Parliament, stepped down from that post but will remain in the legislature. A German newspaper reported he had said in an interview that Bush is acting as if hes Caesar Augustus and Germany is the province of Germania, referring to the powerful Roman emperor who ruled from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D.
The resignations may be followed by an agreement from Schroeders government that Germany will assume leadership of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan and increase its peacekeeping contingent in the Balkans, so as to ease the strain on U.S. and British deployments.
U.S. still displeased
Despite these steps, U.S. officials remained dismissive. Our relations are not any better today than they were yesterday, one source said.
Many European governments have qualms about an attack on Iraq, particularly a unilateral strike by the United States. But they also said Schroeder went too far in his campaign rhetoric and devalued the notion of a common foreign policy for the 15-country European Union.
We will have to split (with Germany) on this point, because it is important that there are no divisions between the United States, the United Nations and Europe over Iraq, Italys European affairs minister, Rocco Buttiglione, said in an interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
The Europeans were also unsettled by Schroeders assertion that he was forging a German way, a phrase associated with the Nazi era. To many Europeans, it denotes the kind of nationalistic foreign policy that Germany had shunned in its post-war role as a champion of an integrated Europe.
Schroeder: Troops unlikely
Schroeder waded in so deep in his opposition to military action in Iraq, saying it could bring chaos to the Middle East and split the global coalition against terror, that it is unlikely that he would ever commit troops to action, analysts here said. Moreover, the slim majority that his coalition won and his partys increasing reliance in Parliament on the Greens, who have a pacifist tradition, make that almost impossible now. It will also constrain his ability to initiate major economic or labor policy programs to restart the countrys sluggish economy.
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, leader of the Greens, will remain Schroeders most important Cabinet member, analysts here predicted. Fischer was much more nuanced during the campaign about his own opposition to an attack on Iraq, and he is now likely to be the governments point man in efforts to repair relations with the United States.
We have to make it clear to the German public, and the American public, that the transatlantic relationship is one of the two fundamental pillars of our policy, said Karsten Voigt, coordinator of German-American relations at the Foreign Ministry.