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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 21:42 GMT 22:42 UK
Schroeder in London for Iraq talks
Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder
Two of Europe's remaining centre-left leaders
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been meeting UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in London on his first trip abroad visit since his re-election on Sunday.

Peter Struck
Mr Struck: Hopes that Afghan offer will please US
A spokesman for Mr Blair said the two leaders held more than two hours of "warm and informal" talks over a private dinner which discussed a wide range of issues including Iraq.

The visit comes amid US fury at Mr Schroeder's anti-war rhetoric during the election campaign, and alleged comments by his justice minister comparing President George W Bush's policy towards Iraq to tactics used by Hitler.

The US has pointedly omitted to congratulate Mr Schroeder on his re-election, and correspondents say that Mr Schroeder may be looking to Mr Blair to help heal the rift.

At a Nato meeting in Vienna, German Defence Minister Peter Struck said he hoped the US would appreciate a joint German-Dutch offer to take over command of the international security force in Afghanistan from early next year.

"After a bit of nerves, relations will now very quickly become totally normal working relations," he said.

Sensible questions

Mr Schroeder's visit to London comes after the UK Government released a dossier setting out the case for action against Iraq.

Open in new window : Key election graphs
Click here to see German election statistics

Germany is the only major European nation that has refused to take part in an attack on Iraq, even if the idea is endorsed by the UN Security Council.

The BBC's Berlin correspondent, Rob Broomby, says it would be hard for Mr Schroeder to change his position, so soon after the election, but that Mr Schroeder does not want to be seen as politically isolated.

Mr Blair is Washington's most outspoken ally in the campaign against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein - but in an interview last week he said Mr Schroeder was asking "perfectly sensible" questions, and had a right to differ.

Break with tradition

Mr Schroeder's visit to London marks a departure from the longstanding practice whereby a newly-elected German chancellor makes his first foreign trip to Paris.

graphic showing election results

Mr Blair and Mr Schroeder are among a declining number of centre-left leaders in Europe, after a string of election victories for the right.

The two men get on well, whereas Mr Schroeder has clashed with the re-elected French President, Jacques Chirac on such subjects as farm subsidies and internal EU reforms.

The defeated centre-right candidate in the German election, Edmund Stoiber, has said he would have visited France first if he had won the election.

The Franco-German axis has often been described as the motor driving the European Union forward.

On Monday, Mr Schroeder said the minister who allegedly made the remark comparing George W Bush with Adolf Hitler would not be a member of his new cabinet.

However, this did not appear to satisfy Washington.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer described a letter sent by Mr Schroeder to Washington, in an attempt to defuse the row, as "more of an explanation than an apology".

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tristana Moore
"It is very significant that Chancellor Schroeder is going to London"
Gerhard Schroeder

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24 Sep 02 | South Asia
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