WASHINGTON – Bush administration officials are not rushing to smooth over U.S.-German relations fractured by criticism of U.S. policy by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and a top German official's reported comparison of President Bush's tactics to those of Adolf Hitler.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was the most direct of U.S. officials offering a cold shoulder. Speaking Monday in Europe hours after Schroeder's narrow election victory, Rumsfeld said the tone of Schroeder's campaign had poisoned U.S.-German relationship.
"I have no comment on the German elections outcome, but I would have to say that the way it was conducted was notably unhelpful," Rumsfeld told reporters. "And as the White House indicated, it has had the effect of poisoning the relationship."
Rumsfeld apparently was referring to comments by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in The Financial Times newspaper Saturday in which she was quoted as saying the reported comparison of Bush to Hitler by Germany's minister of justice had created a "poisoned" atmosphere.
A senior U.S. official said Monday the administration was displeased about Schroeder's repeated expressions of opposition to U.S. policy on Iraq and those on global warming, the death penalty and the International Criminal Court as well as U.S. restrictions on free trade.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a contributing factor was a letter Schroeder sent to Bush last Friday in which he denied his justice minister had made remarks comparing him to Hitler.
By late Monday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher appeared to be inching toward conciliation with a polite, if less-than-effusive, reaction to Schroeder's re-election.
"Obviously, we welcome a democratic election," Boucher said. "Voters of Germany have spoken clearly through a democratic process, and we look forward to working with the German government on issues of common interest."
He noted that Secretary of State Colin Powell had conferred with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer after the election.
Schroeder, meanwhile, showed eagerness to restore the German-American relationship, saying the minister who reportedly compared Bush to Hitler would not be in his new Cabinet.
Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, who has denied making the comparison that was quoted in a German newspaper, announced in a letter that she was not available for the post after receiving clear signals that the government would not have her.
Her decision was "very respectable and appropriate under the circumstances," Schroeder told a news conference.
Schroeder also insisted that the friendship nurtured under Cold War tensions remained strong. Allies, he said, can withstand differences -- on Iraq as well as on other issues such as global warming, farm subsidies and U.S. steel tariffs.
"We have always carried those out in a friendly way without ever getting into such an excited debate," he said. "That's why I think that the basis of U.S.-German relations is so secure that the fears that bubbled during the election campaign in Germany are unfounded."
Schroeder stressed that unlike some of his aides, he never attacked Bush personally. "Disagreement on an issue must never be personalized," he said.
Schroeder played the Iraq card during his close election campaign against a conservative opponent. He raised questions about the legitimacy of U.S. unilateral intervention in Iraq and about the cost of Iraq's rehabilitation should the Americans oust President Saddam Hussein.