Germany to stay out of Iraq

Her lighting tour to Paris and Brussels was designed to reassure European Union partners of the continuity of Berlin’s foreign policy.

In the trip, the conservative Chancellor underscored her commitment to closer European integration and better ties with the US.

Chancellor Merkel has made repairing ties with Washington a key aim.

But like her anti-war predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, ruled out sending German troops to Iraq.

“We made clear in the talks that we will continue not to take part in training inside Iraq, but that we will continue to conduct training in neighbouring countries, she said.

No surprise

The decision not to allow German troops into Iraq came as no surprise to the US.

A NATO diplomat said Washington was under no illusion that Merkel’s government would change the policy on Iraq.

But added they expected her to be more cooperative and less confrontational than Mr Schroeder.

Strong French ties

Chancellor Merkel, who only took office this week, started her whirlwind trip in France, her first foreign destination as leader of Europe’s biggest economy.

French President Jacques Chirac greeted her with a kiss on the hand.

The trip is seen as a gesture showing the strength of their partnership.

“This is not about ritual, it is about a deep conviction that a strong relationship between Germany and France is both necessary and beneficial for Europe,” she told reporters following lunch with President Chirac at the Elysee.

She added, “I am confident we will manage to develop our cordial relationship.”

President Chirac underlined the need for France and Germany to remain Europe’s engine at a time when it faces major challenges.

“If we do not get on, the system becomes blocked and Europe is a bit like a car with a broken part,” he said.

President Chirac said the two nations were united in their wish for “a political and social Europe” and that “a truly strong Franco-German axis” was necessary for the European Union.

Calling their countries’ reconciliation following World War II a “miracle” of history, Merkel said the “relationship must be nurtured, must continue to develop, must remain full of life.”

And she stressed that France and Germany had a “shared duty” to help development of the new EU states of central and Eastern Europe.

NATO’s importance

In Brussels, however, Chancellor Merkel struck a more transatlantic tone, stressing the importance of NATO as a pillar of stability – a theme shared by Washington.

“NATO should be, I believe, the place where people turn first, where member states turn first, to discuss political issues of common concern,” she said.

She added, “I believe that is very necessary… only that way can we see to it that NATO continues to be a political alliance.”

Chancellor Merkel said the U.S.-led alliance should be the central forum for transatlantic political and security cooperation.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer thanked Chancellor Merkel.

Strong EU support

Germany’s youngest and first woman head of government is committed to integration — striving to breathe life into the EU’s stalled constitution.

It has been in limbo since French and Dutch voters rejected it.

The German parliament has already ratified the constitution.

And Chancellor Merkel said she hoped the EU would find a way of bringing it into force after some reflection, suggesting there could be progress when Germany takes the EU presidency in 2007.

“We should not give up on the constitutional treaty. We are willing to do what is necessary to see the constitution enter into force.”

Chancellor Merkel believes that after its setbacks, the EU now needs to show it could still make decisions and pursue economic reforms.

“We no longer have ideological trench warfare to worry us,” Chancellor Merkel said.

“So we will be looking for pragmatic solutions. We need to focus on economic reform so that in a globalises world, we can be competitive, we can keep up,” she added.

And she vowed to work for a quick deal on the long-term EU budget, saying it was one of several issues to be resolved.

Chancellor Merkel will visit EU president, Britain, and Prime Minister Tony Blair tomorrow.

Mr Schroeder and Prime Minister Blair had seemed political bedfellows in the late 1990s, but their relationship soured over the Iraq war.

“My visit to London tomorrow will no doubt be an important building block leading up to the council meeting,” Chancellor Merkel said.

“Germany will try to play a constructive part in these discussions,” she added, but refused to say whether she thought an agreement was possible.