Germany Seethes Over
Rumsfeld Remark


MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld faces a hostile reception on Friday from German politicians and peace activists over his remark that the country's anti-war stance put it on a par with Libya and Cuba.
Rumsfeld was due to address an annual security conference in the southern German city of Munich on Saturday and was expected to argue that allowing more time for weapons inspections in Iraq makes sense only if Iraq cooperates with the United Nations.
Mass protests are planned in Munich on Friday and at the weekend against the security conference, Rumsfeld's visit and the threat of war in the Gulf, with police warning of possible violence. Some 3,500 officers are on duty to try keep the peace.
Rumsfeld's comments on Wednesday putting Germany in the same category as Libya and Cuba as states that would not be helpful in any international effort to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein have infuriated many, putting new pressure on already strained transatlantic ties.
"These comments of Rumsfeld should help bring more people out onto the street," said Raied Naieem, a member of the anti-globalization group Attac that is organizing the protests. Rumsfeld is due to fly onto Germany from Italy later on Friday.
Rumsfeld's comments, which came just weeks after he riled France and Germany by labeling them "Old Europe" for their reticence over military action, angered many politicians too.
Karsten Voigt, the German government's top adviser on U.S. relations, said Rumsfeld was forgetting that Germany was deeply engaged in peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
"Whoever fails to mention that publicly, is making a political mistake, I think," he told Bayerischen Rundfunk radio.
While Germany has ruled out involvement in any military strike on Iraq, it has pledged fly-over rights and freedom of movement for the some 70,000 U.S. forces based in the country and German troops are helping to guard U.S. bases.
In a separate interview with DeutschlandRadio, Voigt said: "It is not wise to so frivolously endanger a partnership, which is of high significance for us and the Americans, through negligent comments."
Klaus Naumann, former chaiman of NATO's military committee, said however justified U.S. criticism might be of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's opposition to a war with Iraq, Rumsfeld's comments were no way to treat a loyal ally.
"Germany is and remains a reliable alliance partner," he told ZDF television. "That's not the way to treat partners.
Schroeder, whose anti-war stance is popular in a country still haunted by World War II and was credited with helping him win a second term last year, has come under increasing pressure to soften his position or risk isolation if Washington eventually wins over other skeptical allies like France.
Richard Perle, a senior adviser to the Defense Department, blamed his center-left government for the relationship between Berlin and Washington reaching such a low.
"After the way the current government has treated the United States, repairing the damage in the near future is unlikely," he told the Handelsblatt business daily. "With a new government that would certainly be possible."
Germany, which holds the presidency of the 15-member U.N. Security Council, along with veto-wielding members France, Russia and China want inspectors to have more time to find out whether Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.
As he arrived in Rome for talks on Friday, Rumsfeld insisted there would be "no hard sell" directed at France or Germany.
"They are going to make up their own minds and they have. Germany certainly has. I would assume they would stick with it. I just don't know. I don't know what France will do," he said.
He said the number of U.S. troops in Germany could be reduced under a study of U.S. basing needs that has been underway for two years, but gave no hint decisions were close.
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