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German leader backs U.S. on ending Iraq sanctions

BERLIN—Germany and the United States agreed Friday to seek a quick lifting of U.N. sanctions on Iraq, boosting the Bush administration's hopes of getting rapid international agreement on how to rebuild the country.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he and visiting Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed that the sanctions "don't make any sense ... and they ought to be lifted as quickly as possible."

Schroeder's remarks, reinforced by other top officials in Berlin, were further evidence that Germany is trying to repair relations with Washington, which were soured by Germany's opposition to the war in Iraq.

Powell, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since the war, was here on a fence-mending mission of his own.

He predicted that the new U.N. resolution—key to getting wide international help for rebuilding Iraq—would pass quickly.

"I believe, with the kind of cooperation I've seen here today, it should be possible to come to closure quickly, over the next several days or week," Powell said, after lunching with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

However, France, which unlike Germany has veto power in the U.N. Security Council, said Friday that it would introduce several amendments to the resolution sponsored by the United States, Britain and Spain. Russia and China, which also hold Security Council veto power, also said they want major changes.

France and other Security Council members have pushed to give the United Nations, rather than the U.S.-led military coalition, the lead responsibility for rebuilding Iraq. They also have questions about Washington's plan to give the United States and Britain power over spending Iraq's oil revenues until an interim Iraqi government gets on its feet.

The United States submitted a modified resolution Friday in New York that slightly enhances the role of a U.N. coordinator for Iraq. But it leaves most of the other contentious provisions unchanged.

Still, Fischer indicated optimism.

"The current resolution is a good basis on which we can continue discussion, and the talks we've had today have made it clear that we are in a good way toward an agreement," he said.

Powell's visit to Berlin had been eagerly anticipated, and German officials went out of their way to signal that they want to put relations on a firmer footing. Fischer even recalled the U.S. role during the post-World War II era, saying, "We will never forget what the United States did for Germany, did for Berlin."

The secretary of state found a similar attitude when he visited Russia two days ago. But U.S. relations with the leading war opponent, France, appear if anything to be getting worse.

U.S.-German relations soured last fall after Schroeder boasted of his opposition to American policy on Iraq to help get re-elected. One of his ministers compared President Bush's tactics to Hitler's. The personal relationship between Bush and Schroeder remains icy, and the two haven't talked since they were at a NATO meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, last November.

Powell made a point Friday of meeting with the leader of the opposition Christian Democratic Union, Angela Merkel.

In a morning session with a group of top German business leaders and academics, Powell stated America's unhappiness with the Schroeder government's work to rally opposition to a war resolution in the United Nations earlier this year, said Gary Smith, the director of the American Academy in Berlin.

Smith said the future of U.S.-German relations depended on Schroeder.

"There are government, corporate and private efforts in every domain to repair relations," he said. "But it depends on his willingness to be more pragmatic, to free himself from the French foreign-policy influence, to stop being the junior partner of France. He needs to be pragmatic about NATO, about putting NATO in Iraq, as well as lifting of sanctions, which is a no-brainer."

The United Nations imposed the sanctions after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

In a recent poll of 1,200 Germans for ZDF television, 62 percent agreed that U.S.-German relations are "rather bad," with only 36 percent describing them as "rather good."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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