Will Germany Shift Iraq Stance? ; Reelected Sunday, Schroder Begins Effort to Mend Divisions Caused by Anti-US Campaign Rhetoric

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Even before all the votes were counted in Germany's cliffhanger election, Berlin began trying to repair the holes that a campaign with strong anti-American overtones has torn in transatlantic relations.

In the last weeks before Sunday's balloting, incumbent Chancellor Gerhard Schroder sharply criticized President George Bush's plan to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Mr. Schroder's defiant refusal to take part in military action against Iraq - even if the UN were to approve it - broke a taboo. Never before in the postwar period had a German chancellor so publicly defied a US president. Now the German leader, whose ruling coalition was narrowly reelected Sunday, hopes to mend fences.

"The foundation of our historical partnership is strong enough to bear these differences of opinion," Schroder said during a late- night evaluation of the vote Sunday.

Peter Struck, the German defense minister, told the Monitor on election night that he hopes to meet with US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at a NATO gathering this week in Warsaw. "We have to see that we normalize the German-American relationship again. It is slightly damaged; there's no question about that. But its basic foundation is strong," said Mr. Struck.

But Rumsfeld has said he will not meet with Struck in Warsaw and reiterated Washington's view that German criticism of US foreign policy during the campaign has poisoned ties.

Jackson Janes, head of the American Institute on Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University, says he can't recall a time when tempers on both sides of the Atlantic have been so hot. "The only thing they can do now is to send [Foreign Minister] Joschka Fischer over with a big fire hose," he said.

Analysts say Schroder will have to walk a fine line to keep his pledge to withhold German troops from involvement in Iraq - and at the same time assure Germany's allies that he is prepared to play a constructive role in international security.

One way to do this, suggests Karsten Voigt, who is responsible for German-American relations in the foreign ministry, is for Berlin to shoulder more of the burden in international peacekeeping elsewhere in the world, especially in Afghanistan and the Balkans. Mr. Voigt says the Americans are not really interested in having German troops fight in Iraq - and that the role of German troops in Iraq was largely a German election debate.

"What they are interested in is that we step up our involvement in Afghanistan, that we are more committed in Bosnia, where the Americans cannot be as involved," says Voigt.

Schroder has also offered to send German inspectors to Iraq as part of a UN mission, should the international body send inspectors back into the country. This is another signal to Washington that Germany is eager to play a constructive role in the future, say analysts.

"We have to make clear that we are in agreement with the goal that Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction. …