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Bush, Schroeder End Feud; Germany Offers Aid in Iraq

September 25, 2003|Maggie Farley and Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writers

UNITED NATIONS — President Bush and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder formally ended their feud over the war in Iraq on Wednesday, as Germany offered to train police and aid in the reconstruction of the struggling country. The move helped isolate France and opened the door a crack for other antiwar nations to join in rebuilding.

But there were no other offers of assistance, a day after an unapologetic Bush told the 191-nation U.N. General Assembly that "Iraq needs and deserves our aid, and all nations of goodwill should step forward."

U.S. officials tried to downplay the fact that few nations had done so.

"The president didn't come here to ask people for troops," a senior administration official said after Bush met with the leaders of about a dozen countries Wednesday, including India and Pakistan, which he hopes will contribute peacekeepers to the effort in Iraq. "I don't think that anyone is feeling any pressure to get foreign troops, although foreign troops would clearly be welcome."

Bush and Schroeder mended a 16-month rift when they met face to face and agreed to cooperate in rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq. Schroeder, along with French President Jacques Chirac, was among the fervent opponents of the war in Iraq, but both say they won't stand in the way of rebuilding Iraq.

"The first thing I told him, I said, 'Look, we've had differences and they're over, and we're going to work together,' " Bush said afterward, Schroeder sitting at his side. "I believe when Germany and America works together, we can accomplish a lot of positive things."

Schroeder said Germany would like to help in the reconstruction of Iraq, and he repeated an offer to help train Iraqi police and security forces in Germany. He also agreed to expand Germany's military presence in Afghanistan, which could reduce the U.S. military's burden there.

Most significantly, Schroeder said that Germany would contribute funds in some form at a donors conference Oct. 24 in Madrid, though he did not discuss the amount.

"It's symbolic, but helpful in political and practical terms," a European diplomat said. "It might get a bandwagon going."

Although Germany strongly opposed the Iraq invasion, German diplomats said that it was open to supporting a new U.S. resolution seeking help in rebuilding the country.

"We very much feel that the differences ... have been left behind and put aside by now," Schroeder said. "We are both agreed that we want to look into the future together."

German and U.S. officials have been working for months to repair the breach between the two countries, which began when Schroeder criticized the United States during the chancellor's reelection campaign in 2002 and intensified a year ago as Bush moved more decisively toward war in Iraq.

The two leaders greeted each other with a brief handshake at a gathering in St. Petersburg, Russia, and at the Group of 8 meeting in France early this summer, but Wednesday's 50-minute meeting was their first tete-a-tete since May 2002.

The dispute was over more than policy: White House aides acknowledged last year that the president had taken Schroeder's anti-American comments personally.

"Before the meeting this morning, at all levels where it matters, we have had a good working relationship.... The only thing that was lacking was a demonstration that the differences were also over at the top," a German diplomat said. "This meeting did that in a very elegant way."

U.S. officials said one reason for the rapprochement with Germany was an American effort to marginalize France and make it harder for Paris to block U.S. moves. France has won support among many of the 15 council members for its concept of an early, symbolic transfer of sovereignty to Iraq. "The U.S. strategy is still to isolate the French," a senior U.S. official said. "The Germans have come in with a constructive attitude, and we think they will be a key in isolating the French, but it's too early to say whether the president had impact on the Germans."

Chirac, however, strongly denied that France's partner in opposition was moving away. "There is not the slightest shadow of a difference between the French and German positions," he said.

This week, Chirac softened his original demands about the timing of the return of Iraq's sovereignty and a broader U.N. role when it became clear that France was asking more than either the Iraqi Governing Council or the United Nations say they can deliver right now.

In his address to the General Assembly and at a news conference Tuesday, Chirac left some room for movement, saying that Iraq should return to self-rule "as soon as possible" instead of within a month and that the U.N. should assist to give legitimacy to the process -- not to take charge entirely, as France originally insisted. He also conceded that the U.S. could lead a multinational force, a structure France had opposed because it said it would look as if outside troops were part of the occupation army.

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