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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 May, 2003, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Germany rejects Polish Iraq force
 Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz with Colin Powell
Poland has been invited to head northern Iraq peacekeeping force

Germany has rejected a Polish proposal to send peacekeepers as part of a Polish-led force in Iraq.

Poland, asked by the US to run one of four proposed "sectors" of Iraq, suggested involving German troops in the force in an apparent fence-mending move.

But German Government spokesman Bela Anda told a news conference a joint mission was "not planned".

The participation of German soldiers in such a common mission is not planned and so will not take place
Bela Anda
German Government spokesman

Earlier Defence Minister Peter Struck said he was surprised by the suggestion but would discuss it during a visit to Denmark, another country which may send peacekeepers to Iraq.

Meanwhile Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder announced he was cutting short a visit to Asia next week to meet US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Berlin.

The BBC's Ray Furlong in Berlin says Mr Powell's trip would be the most closely watched diplomatic visit of the year, with Germany desperate to repair relations with the US after the Iraq war.

'Consistent policies'

Polish Defence Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski suggested in talks with his US counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld, that Germany and Denmark might contribute troops to the Polish sector.

Not only is the UN being bypassed, but what the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once dismissed as "Old Europe" is also being excluded.

But his call appears to have only angered the Germans - who say they were not consulted in advance.

"The participation of German soldiers in such a common mission is not planned and so will not take place and Germany's policies remain consistent," Mr Anda said.

The Poles are thought to have suggested that the three-way force draw on an existing German-Danish-Polish corps.

But a German Defence Ministry spokesman said the corps was only established in 1999 and had not yet been certified by Nato.

Poland was invited last week by the US to lead the force in northern Iraq, with the US, the UK and another country - possibly Denmark - running the others.

'Misunderstanding'

Our correspondent says Poland's high-profile role only underlines Germany's exclusion as the United States prefers to work with a coalition of the willing.

Iraqi women pass US military vehicles
The US wants other countries to run peacekeeping missions

However, Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz later appeared to play down his defence minister's suggestion, saying it should not be treated as an official proposal.

"There is some misunderstanding connected with this issue, with regard to what precisely our defence minister said in Washington," he said.

"But it concerns most of all a certain intention, the stating of a certain intention, that here we would like to co-operate with our European partners and also with countries which are members of the European Union.

"We would be extremely happy, of course, if they were also our Western neighbours."

Balancing act

Overall, analysts say Poland is trying to walk a delicate line between its US allies and its prospective EU partners.

French President Jacques Chirac has previously bitterly attacked former communist countries for siding with the US in the rift over Iraq.

Polish, French and German leaders are due to hold a summit this weekend, at which the issue of Iraq is expected to be aired again.

Poland's invitation to run an Iraqi sector is seen as a reward for its support during the Iraq war, which included sending a 200-strong special operations force.

The peacekeeping force would probably involve up to 2,200 Polish troops, but would need bolstering by other countries to reach its necessary size of up to 9,000.

Mr Szmajdzinski has also said Poland will need US financial help to run the force, which will cost an estimated $90m a year.





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