Kinkel backtracks as Bonn policy wavers

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The Independent Online
GERMANY seemed to be confused about its foreign policy yesterday, with sharply conflicting signals on Yugoslavia. Klaus Kinkel, the Foreign Minister, backtracked from statements by government leaders in recent days. At the weekend, the Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, had hinted that the arms embargo against Bosnia be lifted. Talking of the 'genocide' in Bosnia, he said: 'If we can't help them, we should give them the chance to help themselves.'

Mr Kinkel echoed those words. The Defence Minister, Volker Ruhe, too, came out with some tough talk. He hinted strongly at armed intervention against Bosnia, by drawing parallels with Nazi Germany. 'Concentration camps in Germany were stopped by soldiers, and not by demonstrations in another country,' he said. Yesterday, however, Mr Kinkel was distancing himself from such words - perhaps partly in order not to cause offence to the more cautious members of the European Community and at the United Nations.

In a radio interview, Mr Kinkel acknowledged that the majority of Germany's EC partners were against lifting the arms embargo, and that Germany was in a minority, when it 'wondered whether such a lifting of the embargo will not become necessary if the peace plan fails'. Yesterday, however, he went out of his way to emphasise the disadvantages of lifting the embargo, and said: 'There will be no lone action by Germany.'

He seemed keen, too, not to endorse Mr Ruhe's hints of armed intervention. It would, he said, be difficult for Germany to be at the forefront of calls for intervention, since - according to the German constitution, as it stands - German troops would not be allowed to take part. 'We need to stay in the background because, of course, whenever we say something, they ask: 'And what about you, will you join in?' And the answer must always be: 'Sorry, no.' '

German public opinion has been far more active in its support for the Bosnian cause than opinion in Britain, and the story has rarely fallen off the front pages. A cartoon in the Suddeutsche Zeitung this week expressed the widespread view that the UN has done far too little so far. The cartoon shows a UN official shouting through a loudhailer at the Serbs: 'Stop the war immediately] I'm going to count to three . . . And then I'm going to go on counting.'

The calls for tougher action have almost entirely transcended left-right party lines. Following the attacks by Croatia on the Serbian enclave of Krajina last week, Germany was sharply critical of Croatia, to the indignation of the republic's President, Franjo Tudjman, who said he was 'astonished' that the Croatian actions were 'less well understood' in Germany than elsewhere in Europe.

But, despite Germany's irritation with Croatia over the Krajina attacks, it seems unlikely that this will herald a complete change of tack. Germany's sympathy for Croatia and for the Bosnian leadership is likely to remain strong. But Germany, as Mr Kinkel's comments yesterday showed clearly, is keen not to anger either the EC or the UN - where it hopes to gain a seat as a permanent member of the Security Council - by throwing its weight around too much and too often.