BERLIN – German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Wednesday he hoped Saddam Hussein's government would collapse quickly, marking a stark turnaround from Germany's previous opposition to regime change as a goal of the U.S.-led war.
"We hope the regime will collapse as soon as possible and we'll have no further loss of life -- civilians or soldiers," Fischer said before a meeting with his British counterpart, Jack Straw, at a hotel in Berlin's Grunewald suburb.
Both foreign ministers stressed common ground in Europe on Iraq -- a position that would seem hard to stake out after the diplomatic rift over whether war should be waged to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.
Germany firmly opposed the war, joining France and Russia in opposing a U.N. resolution that would have authorized force, on the grounds that peaceful means to disarm Iraq had not been exhausted. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has condemned regime change as a war aim.
Britain, Italy, Spain and several eastern European countries have stood firmly behind the United States' conviction that Iraq would never disarm voluntarily.
However, Straw said the divide over how to disarm Iraq "disguised a great deal of agreement."
Fischer grounded his wish for regime change in Iraq in the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Iraq -- a similar argument to the one he laid out when he supported NATO-led campaigns to end the Bosnian war and the Kosovo conflict.
"The humanitarian situation is very alarming," Fischer told reporters.
France's government has made a string of official statements aimed at making sure its opposition to the war is not interpreted as support for the Iraqi dictator. Both the prime minister and foreign minister have insisted that France hopes the U.S.-led coalition wins the war.
"Naturally, we hope for the end of Saddam Hussein's regime," government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope told reporters Wednesday in Paris.
The U.S. ambassador to France, Howard H. Leach, also took a conciliatory tone, telling the newspaper Le Parisien on Wednesday that Washington and Paris should concentrate on the tasks ahead rather than the acrimony over the war.
"We need to turn the page and leave that problem behind us," Leach was quoted as saying. "Let's get down today to the problems of tomorrow: the reconstruction of Iraq, North Korea, the proliferation of banned weapons in Iran."
At the meeting near Berlin, Straw said Germany's sponsorship last week of a U.N. resolution to restart the oil-for-food program augured well for future cooperation among the anti-war and pro-war camps when it comes time to discuss rebuilding Iraq.
He said he could imagine U.N.-sponsored talks on rebuilding Iraq similar to talks on Afghanistan's political future held in Bonn in 2001.
"We're not there yet," Straw said. "We have to wait until the military action comes to a proper conclusion."