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Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 16:22 GMT
Analysis: Schroeder challenges the US
Gerhard Schroeder addressing the Bundestag
Schroeder is openly at odds with Washington

Gerhard Schroeder's speech to Germany's parliament on Thursday may prove a turning point for his country.

It represents the first time since the Second World War that a German leader has formally announced a policy based on openly opposing the United States - and seeking to thwart it by building alliances with other states.

The substance and style of Gerhard Schroeder's challenge to US leadership represent a sharp break with Germany's settled policy over the past 50 years

Gerhard Schroeder said this was the "mandate" on which he was re-elected last year. He described Germany's main international "orientation" as being to prevent wars.

He also indicated clearly that a German Government places more importance on ties with France than those with the United States.

Explaining Germany's decision to side with France and Belgium in the Nato crisis over support for Turkey, Mr Schroeder said unity with France was "indispensable".

But US President George W Bush and his advisers have called the German and French action inexcusable. They see it as threatening the very future of the alliance.

Chancellor Schroeder left it to his defence minister, Peter Struck, to hint that the impasse over help for Turkey would soon be over.

Hedging

Mr Struck predicted that the Germans - along with the French and Belgians - would relent on this point by Saturday, the day after the next report to the UN Security Council by the chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.

Mr Schroeder apparently wants to have it both ways.

Mr Schroeder insists that the substance of US-German relations are unaffected - but he is ignoring powerful evidence to the contrary.

He says Germany is behaving as a loyal ally because it has not objected to the US using its military bases in the country, and has mounted extra guards to protect those bases as the Iraq crisis has built up.

Still, the substance and style of Gerhard Schroeder's challenge to US leadership represent a sharp break with Germany's settled policy over the past 50 years.

Mr Schroeder has ignored warnings from US leaders and forged, in effect, a rival axis of power and diplomacy.

On Iraq, Germany denies that Iraq is in "material breach" of its UN obligations.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer now proposes a new "international regime" to control and destroy weapons of mass destruction, as an alternative to the US strategy of threatening military force.

Mr Schroeder aims to enlist the backing of the European Union for the German and French challenge to US leadership.

Germany wants the forthcoming EU constitution to include a mutual defence clause among member-states, which would duplicate that of Nato.

Popular support

After Mr Schroeder's speech in parliament Germany's opposition accused him of anti-Americanism.

Anti-war protest in Leipzig
Most Germans say no to war

Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democrats, said he was repeating Germany's historical mistake of trying to "go it alone" in world affairs.

Chancellor Schroeder appears to have overwhelming public backing at home for his anti-war stance on Iraq.

The German anti-war demonstrations planned for Saturday are expected to be among the biggest and noisiest in Europe.

But Berlin's high-profile challenge to the US has been widely attacked in the media. And many respected German figures see it as dangerous.

General Klaus Naumann, who was the highest-ranking general in Nato in the mid-1990s, said Mr Schroeder was "taking an axe" to the roots of Nato.

The EU and the UN could be next, he warned.

'Poison'

Mr Schroeder insists that the substance of US-German relations are unaffected - but he is ignoring powerful evidence to the contrary.

When he won re-election last September by making speeches against America's "military adventures" the White House warned that he had "poisoned" ties with the US.

A few days ago, US Ambassador to Berlin Daniel Coats warned again that Mr Schroeder's leadership had placed in doubt Germany's reliability as an ally.

The chancellor's latest speech suggests that he does not intend to back down.

The coming weeks will test the real nature of Germany's new foreign policy orientation.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
"We all do what we have to do for the peaceful disarmament of Iraq"
Thomas Kielinger, of German newspaper Die Welt
"He is tending to say that America is this country that we must rein in"

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13 Feb 03 | Media reports
03 Feb 03 | Europe
08 Jan 03 | Europe
29 Jan 03 | Europe
12 Feb 03 | Americas
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