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Rumsfeld Does Little to Mend Rift With Berlin Over Iraq

On visit, he ignores German and French roles in Afghanistan while praising others.

June 12, 2003|Esther Schrader | Times Staff Writer

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld traveled to Germany on Wednesday for the first time since the war in Iraq but did little to mend the rift between Washington and Berlin.

In a speech here, Rumsfeld specifically lauded the contributions of several Eastern European countries to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but he made no mention of the thousands of troops whom France sent to help rout the Taliban regime from Afghanistan or the German peacekeepers who are leading stabilization efforts there.

And although Rumsfeld excised a reference in the written text of the speech to countries that "want to define themselves by their opposition to the United States -- as some sort of 'counterweight' to America," he made clear that where a nation stood on the Iraq war is a key element of where it stands with Washington today. Germany and France led the opposition to the war.

The speech commemorated the 10th anniversary of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, founded to foster cooperation and democracy among the nations of the former Soviet Bloc.

Rumsfeld alluded to his disparaging characterization earlier this year of France and Germany as "Old Europe."

"The distinction between old and new in Europe today is really not a matter of age or size or geography," Rumsfeld said. "It is really a matter of attitude -- of the vision that countries bring to the transatlantic relationship and to the challenges that we will all face in the years ahead."

Rumsfeld also used the visit to drive home a point he has been making for days now, in visits to Portugal and Albania, two European countries that supported the war: The countries that opposed the war may have been too busy tending to domestic politics to "contribute to a more peaceful and secure free world."

This week he has sought to mend fences but has still insisted that the political center of Europe, once solidly in Germany, has shifted eastward.

Singling out the newest members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- all formerly in the Soviet realm -- Rumsfeld said those countries, "with fresh memories of tyranny and occupation, have been among the most willing to face new threats."

He added, "They are bringing new vision and vitality to this old alliance."

Even so, Rumsfeld said the falling out with Germany should not be allowed to weaken a strong relationship more than half a century old.

"From time to time, we don't agree on everything," Rumsfeld said. "Sometimes we have debates or discussions. But when threatened or challenged, we need to come together, as we have since Sept 11."

German Defense Minister Peter Struck took a more conciliatory tone, several times referring to the "deep friendship" between his nation and the United States, to the "support" of the U.S. and to the two countries as "pioneers."

"Quarrels occur in the best of families," Struck said. "We had different views as far as Iraq was concerned, but a friendship such as ours can weather the storm."

The speeches at the Marshall Center's campus were designed to underscore the lasting nature of the U.S.-German friendship and to signal that the alliance has rapidly overcome divisions sparked by the war.

The ceremony was Rumsfeld's third stop in a four-day tour of Europe that began with visits to thank Portugal and Albania for their vocal support of the war and ends today with a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels to take steps toward revitalizing the alliance as a meaningful military force in the post-Cold War era.

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