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German Reversal Leaves Official Out in the Cold : Politics: Ex-spy chief is named foreign minister. Post is taken away from construction minister after one day.

April 29, 1992|TAMARA JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BONN — In a sudden turnabout that left the loser in tears, Germany's former spy chief was tapped as foreign minister Tuesday after party squabbling snatched the job away from the first woman ever appointed to the post.

Justice Minister Klaus Kinkel was nominated to succeed Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher during a fractious caucus meeting of the liberal Free Democrats, the junior coalition party that holds that Cabinet post.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government has been hit by a wave of troublesome resignations over the past month, and the jockeying for power has left the Cabinet in apparent disarray, although the ruling center-right coalition does not seem in any immediate danger of collapse.

"Kohl's coalition is losing its inner stability because of an unprofessional and provocative jostling for jobs," the conservative newspaper Die Welt commented in an editorial to be published today.

Kinkel's appointment, yet to be rubber-stamped by Kohl, came after the Free Democrats rebelled against their party leadership and rejected the presidium's first choice, Construction Minister Irmgard Schwaetzer.

Schwaetzer wept as the party caucus voted 63 to 25 against her.

Genscher's abrupt announcement Monday that he would step down May 17 after an unprecedented 18 years in office unleashed a bitter power struggle within his tiny party over prized Cabinet posts. The other coalition member--the Bavarian sister party to Kohl's Christian Democrats--joined the fray by clamoring for Genscher's second job, that of vice chancellor.

Besides the three posts involved in the musical chairs initiated by Genscher's resignation, the job of health minister also opened up this week when Gerda Hasselfeldt stepped down after a close aide was revealed to have been spying for Poland. A month ago, Defense Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg was forced to resign over an arms-sale scandal.

It was not clear Tuesday whether Schwaetzer, 50, would return to her post as construction minister.

Sniping among the three parties in the coalition could undermine Kohl at a time when he faces heavy criticism and declining popularity over the staggering costs of German unification.

Kohl needs the support of the Free Democrats and the conservative Christian Social Union to win the necessary majority in the Bundestag, or lower house of Parliament. A strong Cabinet is vital to him in the period leading up to new elections in 1994.

"I believe the chancellor should not go into the elections with this Cabinet--unless he no longer has any interest in winning the election," said Edmund Stoiber, Bavarian interior minister and deputy chairman of the Christian Social Union.

The Free Democrats have held the Foreign Ministry post since 1969, and Kohl left the decision of choosing Genscher's successor up to the party.

By late Tuesday evening, the closed-door Free Democrat scrap had left a Bundestag freshman poised for the high-profile justice seat. Patent expert Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a 40-year-old political unknown, was nominated for the post just as the Bundestag was preparing to consider important constitutional reforms necessitated by unification.

The party also picked Economics Minister Juergen Moellemann to be vice chancellor but faced a challenge by Finance Minister Theo Waigel, leader of the Christian Social Union.

"It was a very contentious day," summed up a source from the Free Democrats' camp.

Party insiders said the rare revolt among the rank and file reflected a growing generational rift in the party.

Werner Hoyer, a Free Democratic deputy from Cologne and the party whip in Parliament, said there had been deep resentment over what was seen as the party leadership's high-handed decision in nominating Schwaetzer without consulting the caucus.

"It's not a coup," Hoyer said in a telephone interview. "It's an anti-coup."

He said Schwaetzer "ran into a trap" by assuming that the leadership's nomination made her a shoo-in with the caucus, which was seething over her swift appointment by party chairman Otto Lambsdorff and the rest of the leadership.

There was no immediate comment from Schwaetzer, who was criticized during her brief candidacy as too inexperienced and too unknown to succeed Genscher, 65, who left the reasons for his departure vague.

Genscher, consistently at the top of popularity polls, is the Free Democrats' only real star. The Western world's longest-serving foreign minister, he played a crucial role in unifying the two Germanys--a role he also relished personally since he fled the Communist East himself 40 years ago.

The soft-spoken Kinkel, 55, is considered the most likely successor to party chairman Lambsdorff next year.

Kinkel, like Schwaetzer, is relatively inexperienced in foreign policy but was a protege of Genscher in both the Interior and Foreign ministries before becoming president of the German intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), in 1979.

One of his achievements as BND chief was orchestrating the defection of East German spy Werner Stiller, who provided a wealth of information about the Communist espionage network before moving to the United States, where the CIA gave him a new identity. Stiller eventually returned to the newly united Germany and works as a broker in Frankfurt.

Kinkel has been in the Cabinet for just 15 months but is a well-known figure in Germany because many of unification's most controversial issues--abortion, asylum, opening former East German secret police files--have passed through the Justice Ministry.

"He combines expertise and a well-developed feeling for currents and trends," party whip Hoyer said.

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