BERLIN – German officials brushed off reports Monday of a rift over Iraq policy between Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his foreign minister, despite signs that the chief diplomat is chafing at the chancellor's tough rhetoric against U.S. pressure for war.
While both of the German leaders want to prevent war in Iraq, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has been intent on leaving room to maneuver -- for instance, resisting Schroeder's flat refusal to support any U.N. resolution authorizing war.
New questions about relations within the government emerged after Fischer apparently was not briefed about a German-French initiative to disarm Iraq peacefully, reported in the German media just as he was attending a conference in Munich with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"Fischer shouts at Schroeder!" the mass-circulation Bild daily headlined a front-page story Monday claiming that Fischer had angrily called his boss to complain about being blindsided.
Spokesmen for Fischer and Schroeder denied that the foreign minister had raised his voice, and insisted relations between the two were "excellent" and "trusting."
But Fischer's spokesman added an unusually revealing postscript .
"Show me one politician who doesn't have differences with other politicians," Walter Lindner told reporters. "It would be an odd relationship if these were just yes-men who had no discussions about politics. That's totally self-evident."
Differences of approach between Schroeder and Fischer, the deputy chancellor, have surfaced several times in recent weeks as the crisis over Iraq -- accompanied by U.S.-German tension -- has deepened.
When Fischer's man at the United Nations, Ambassador Guenter Pleuger, suggested that a new resolution might not be needed to authorize a war against Iraq, Schroeder disavowed his remark.
When Fischer gave his first speech in the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 20, he pointedly left open how Germany might vote if a war resolution were presented. The next day, Schroeder appeared to slam the door, telling a cheering election rally audience in his home state, "Don't expect Germany to approve a resolution legitimizing war."
Germany's conservative opposition accuses Schroeder of leading Germany into diplomatic isolation and jeopardizing ties with the United States by undermining Fischer's attempts to create some diplomatic room to maneuver.
"Their close relationship is broken," said Friedbert Pflueger, a foreign policy expert with the opposition Christian Democrats. "The foreign minister must look himself in the mirror and ask himself if he should take on the chancellor publicly or resign."
Despite the divergence with Schroeder, no one expects Fischer to quit -- a step that would not only bring down the government but also leave Fischer's small Greens party out in the cold.