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Germany seeks closer ties with Britain By Anton La Guardia (Filed: 03/02/2004)
Chancellor was a 'prisoner' of French president in 'catastrophic' opposition to war to topple Saddam, writes Anton La Guardia
Germany is seeking to distance itself from France's tight embrace and realign itself more closely to Britain and America, senior German officials signalled yesterday.
They said the row with Washington over Iraq had been "catastrophic" for Berlin and Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der had become "a prisoner" of President Jacques Chirac's campaign to oppose the war to topple Saddam Hussein last year.
"We were more dependent on the French in that situation. But this will not be a permanent situation," said one authoritative source.
Another official explained: "We have to be careful that we are not identified with every word that the French president utters. We must have our own identity and be a little more clever."
The latest indications of Berlin's quest for a rapprochement with London and Washington came two days after Joschka Fischer, Germany's foreign minister, abandoned Berlin's dream of creating a European federal state.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Mr Fischer said the Iraq crisis had exposed the divisions within Europe and brought home to him the need to accept diverse traditions and history.
He even adopted some of Tony Blair's language about the need for the European Union to rest "on strong member states" rather than becoming a "superstate".
Germany has no intention of abandoning the close partnership with France, a central plank of its foreign policy. Any change, if it comes, is likely to be gradual.
But Berlin apparently wants to redesign the once all-powerful "Franco-German motor" to include Britain and perhaps Poland.
"German-French understanding is a necessary condition to move Europe forward, but it is not sufficient," said one senior official. "The European project cannot move without Britain and Poland. This is not always understood in France."
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has responded to such overtures by saying the big three countries of the EU - Britain, France and Germany - need to play the leading role in Europe.
He has cited the EU pressure on Iran to come clean about its suspected nuclear weapons programme as evidence of successful action by the three countries.
But in the agreement to disarm Libya of weapons of mass destruction Britain proceeded alone with the United States.
Britain will be wary of German overtures unless it sees concrete evidence of Mr Schr?der's independence from M Chirac rather than mere talk by German officials.
Germany has long regarded a strong alliance with America as vital. But during the diplomatic battles over the war in Iraq Mr Schr?der firmly allied himself to M Chirac in confronting the might of the United States and blocking United Nations authorisation for military action.
Since then Mr Schr?der has tried to repair relations with President George W Bush, signalling flexibility on a wide range of issues short of publicly recanting his opposition to war in Iraq. Yesterday, the sources said Germany was now likely to support the deployment of Nato peacekeeping forces in Iraq, albeit without the direct participation of German troops. Any such decision would mark a serious attempt to overcome the bitter transatlantic divisions over the war.
Now German officials say they are also ready to offer limited help in Iraq. "We have an interest in success in Iraq," insisted one official. "Unless there is stability and some kind of democracy there could be a negative domino effect across the region to the detriment of everybody's interests in the West."
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