SCHRÖDER'S TEAM NOT TELLING FULL STORY ON IRAQ



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Last Updated

05 Feb 2003

Source: New York Times, February 4, 2003

GERMANY

Schröder's Team Not Telling Full Story on Iraq, Foes Say

By RICHARD BERNSTEIN

BERLIN, Feb. 3 — Members of Germany's conservative opposition have accused Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government of withholding a true picture of the threat from Iraq, citing classified German intelligence information that Iraq possesses the smallpox virus and that the Saddam Hussein regime has mobile factories capable of producing chemical and biological weapons.

The German health minister, Ulla Schmidt, has recommended that Germany stockpile smallpox vaccine to guard against a possible terrorist attack. The recommendation, reported on the Web site of the German newsweekly Der Spiegel over the weekend, has not been made public.

On Friday, the federal intelligence service said only that it had passed along information about Iraqi weapons programs to the United Nations inspectors who are charged with verifying Iraqi disarmament, but gave no details on the intelligence or with whom else it had been shared.

A text of the full memorandum from a closed parliamentary committee meeting last November was provided to The New York Times by a member of the opposition, which has apparently been emboldened by the defeat of Mr. Schröder's Social Democrats in state elections on Sunday to assail the government's opposition to war in Iraq.

In the memorandum, Ms. Schmidt, a Social Democrat, denies that there is any intelligence information that is new, suggesting that the German government has known for some time of the Iraqi smallpox stock. Her overall recommendation, however, seems to align her with the American position that a biological attack emanating from Iraq is a real possibility.

"It is to be assumed that countries such as North Korea and Iraq have access to viral strains that could present a potential threat," the memorandum quotes Ms. Schmidt as saying. "It was stated earlier that no one would use these because of the risk of self-injury, but it is the case, given the numerous suicide bomber attacks, that there is a completely different situation."

"Therefore," the memorandum says, "the danger cannot be excluded that someone could infect himself to launch a suicide attack."

Until now, opposition politicians have been constrained on Iraq by the strong antiwar sentiment in this country. But they now say Sunday's defeat has encouraged them to end what they see as Germany's isolation on the Iraq question and to align Germany with its traditional allies, the United States and Britain.

Mr. Schröder, however, reiterated today that he would not bend in his opposition to war with Iraq. "We were against military action and we remain against it now," he said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Schröder appears isolated. The cover on Der Spiegel today showed a picture of him under the headline "The Lonely Chancellor."

"The majority of our electorate, the conservative electorate, is against any military action, so we haven't wanted to put that to the test before," Christian Schmidt, the defense policy spokesman for the opposition Christian Social Union, said in an interview today. "Now we will repeat a little louder what we said before — go back to the alliance."

Many German foreign policy experts have been privately critical of what they have seen as Mr. Schröder's unyielding position on Iraq, arguing that it has needlessly harmed German relations with the United States and caused divisions inside Europe.

Mr. Schröder, who campaigned strongly against the war in his successful election campaign last September, has gone farther than any European leader, saying repeatedly that Germany would not participate in a war even if the United Nations approved of one. France, by contrast, has left open the possibility of participating if war was approved by the United Nations Security Council.

Opposition party leaders in Germany said today that they wanted Germany to adopt the French position and show Germans that Iraq is a real threat.

Friedbert Pflüger, an influential Christian Democratic Union legislator from Hanover, said in an interview that the Schröder government "tried to give the impression that it is a fantasy of George W. Bush that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction."

"I am not willing to accept that the government gives the public a false impression," he said.

Mr. Pflüger rejected the argument being heard here that the letter signed by eight European leaders last week that asked for unity with the United States on Iraq has furthered European divisions.

"Mr. Schröder is personally responsible for the breakdown of European solidarity," Mr. Pflüger said, "not the eight other European countries who signed the letter of support for America."

With Mr. Schröder insisting he will not change his stance, a political battle seems to be building while public opinion — despite Sunday's vote — seems to be as strongly anti-war as ever.

"I assume that the electorate realizes that the government policy is interesting for Schröder but for nobody else in the world," said Mr. Schmidt, the conservative defense policy spokesman. "If he says that for the sake of the country he's willing to make some compromise, I think he could sell it."