Ambassadors see progress in relations with Germany

by Alison Schmauch | 5/2/03 5:00am

Current German Ambassador to the United States Wolfgang Ischinger has had terrible luck starting out in new jobs.

On his first day in July 1991 at a diplomatic post in Paris, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. And Ischinger arrived in the United States to take his current post as Ambassador on September 10, 2001. He recalled that he had originally intended to spend the 11th doing a "lot of desk work."

Ischinger and his colleague Robert Kimmitt, a former American ambassador to Germany, described these experiences and others from their diplomatic career during a speech last night titled "Germany and America: Reunification, Iraq and Beyond," drawing a crowd of approximately 80 people.

Overall, Ischinger and Kimmitt view the future of German/American relations in a positive light.

Ischinger noted the United States' important role in bringing down the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.

After the fall of the Wall, Ischinger was sent to accompany a train of 5,000 German refugees stranded in Prague over the Western border. As a diplomat, Ischinger was supposed to be in charge of safeguarding the train. He recalled their "exhilarating mix of desperate courage" as they traveled across the countryside, hoping to find better lives in West Germany.

Ischinger also described the United States' role in the world in positive terms. He said that the United States "should lead the world" and added, "Who else should? Who else has the power?"

He took a similarly positive attitude about the continued presence of American troops in Germany, stating that all but about one percent of the German public favors the troops remaining there and that local mayors and businesspeople especially appreciate it.

Looking back several decades, Ischinger said that the United States was the only country to have helped the nations it has conquered to help become free, sovereign states, rather than simply leaving behind their conquered territories or ruling them as colonies.

He hoped that the United States would look back at this historical example as it undertakes the reconstruction of Iraq.

Both Kimmitt and Ischinger thought that U.S./German relations had dipped to a low point this past March in the wake of the U.S. attempt to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution allowing the United States to invade Iraq. Kimmitt said that the relationship "reached a level as low as I've seen it."

He nonetheless believed that the worst of this diplomatic conflict was past. "French behavior was so egregiously worse that Germans looked good by comparison," he said.

He added that "the German minister was not actively flying around Africa actively working against us," as the French were in their attempt to find other nations similarly opposed to the invasion of Iraq.

Once the war began, the Germans still quietly helped the United States in many of the same ways that they had during the first Gulf War.

For example, Germany deployed patriot missiles to Israel and maintained their embassy in Baghdad almost up until the invasion, which allowed the Germans to supply the United States with useful information about the state of affairs in the Iraqi capital.

Ischinger also carefully distinguished between anti-American sentiment and simply opposing intervention in Iraq at this particular time.

He said that the Hussein regime was "murderous" and that they were "on the road to developing weapons of mass destruction," but that there was still room for debate regarding whether or not the conflict required immediate resolution through military means.

The vast majority of Germans support a continued friendly relationship between the two nations, he said.

Kimmitt, who is currently a vice president of America Online Time Warner, also noted tthe economic ties that bind the United States and Germany.

He noted that 75,000 out of AOL Time Warner's 87,000 employees are Americans. By contrast, the German firm Siemens employs 82,000 Americans, more Americans than both Intel and Microsoft employ.

Kimmitt also said that the media has exaggerated the divide between American and German opinion on Iraq in recent months. "There's been too much caricature on both sides," he said.