Schröder meeting with Powell fails to heal Iraq rift  

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The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, failed to repair the "poisoned" relationship between Berlin and Washington when he met the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, yesterday during the first visit to Germany by a top US government official since the fallout between the two countries over the Iraq war.

George Bush has not spoken to Mr Schröder since Germany's decision to oppose armed intervention in Iraq. The row was exacerbated by Germany's former justice minister, who compared the US President to Adolf Hitler.

In Washington on Thursday, in what appeared to be timed as a clear snub to Mr Schröder, President Bush met Roland Koch, the right wing prime minister of the German state of Hesse, who is widely viewed as the next conservative German chancellor.

Mr Koch, who has made no secret of his opposition to the Schröder government's policy on Iraq, was in the US for talks with the Vice President Dick Cheney. Their meeting in the White House was interrupted by Mr Bush who, apparently unannounced, joined them for 15 minutes. German officials described the encounter as "surprising".

In Berlin, Mr Schröder saw General Powell for 36 minutes, but he was unable to obtain a firm date for a reconciliatory meeting with Mr Bush. In an interview on German television, General Powell admitted the atmosphere between the two countries was still seriously strained. "We will need time and work to put that behind us," he said.

The best that General Powell could offer Mr Schröder was to suggest an opportunity to meet the American President during the G8 summit next month in the French town of Evian les Bains.

Both sides nevertheless attempted to put a brave face on the continuing German-American rift, and described their meeting as "friendly and open" in a joint statement.

"I think America has understood that friends can sometimes hold different opinions," said Mr Schröder.

General Powell, who has been portrayed in the German media as too "doveish" to represent current thinking in Washington, said he had not only discussed the row over the Iraq war with Chancellor Schröder but also what "binds our two countries together". He added: "Germany and the United States have been friends and allies for many years."

In an effort to show that Berlin was now prepared to cooperate with Washington, Mr Schröder said Germany would make every attempt to support US plans to lift sanctions on Iraq. "The sanctions no longer make sense and should be lifted as soon as possible. It is important to reach a compromise at the UN," he said.

However, he left open whether Germany would support the American draft proposals on UN sanctions announced on Thursday, which envisage greater, albeit limited, UN involvement in post-war Iraq. Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, also refused to be drawn on the issue after meeting briefly with General Powell.

Germany has strongly opposed what it sees as America and Britain's "go-it-alone" policy in Iraq, and has argued for a UN-coordinated effort to rebuild the country.

Angelika Beer, the leader of Mr Schröder's Green party coalition partners, dismissed the American draft UN resolution as untenable.

"It would reduce the UN's role to that of a help force," she said yesterday. "The German government is not prepared to legitimise the preventative strike against Iraq retrospectively through this resolution."

¿ Between 15,000 and 30,000 Ba'ath party officials will be banned from participating in a future Iraqi government. A senior official with the US reconstruction team said this would eliminate Saddam's party and "put a stake in its heart".