Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Monday criticized the anti-U.S. tone of Germany's elections, saying it had the effect of "poisoning" U.S. relations with a longtime ally.
"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 after meeting with President Aleksander Kwasniewski in the presidential palace in Warsaw, Poland. "And as the White House indicated, has had the effect of poisoning the relationship."
Rumsfeld apparently was referring to comments published Saturday in The Financial Times newspaper by Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser. She was quoted as saying that the alleged comment by Germany's minister of justice comparing Bush to Adolf Hitler had created a "poisoned" atmosphere.
U.S. officials also were disturbed by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's emphatic opposition to American military action to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Rumsfeld said he had no plan to meet with Germany's defense minister during NATO meetings in Warsaw on Tuesday and Wednesday. Rumsfeld will be meeting with several other NATO counterparts.
Schroeder's Social Democrats held onto power in Germany's closest postwar election.
Schroeder secured a second four-year mandate for his coalition with the small Greens party in Sunday's vote, but his majority in parliament was shaved to only nine seats from a previous 21.
His conservative rival, Edmund Stoiber, said that slender majority would not hold long.
Schroeder's outspoken opposition to a military conflict with Iraq was credited with giving him a late push in a tight campaign. But it provoked a rare open spat with the United States and accusations he whipped up emotions against a vital ally for electoral gain.
"What I criticize above all is that (Schroeder) opened the floodgates for anti-American tones," Stoiber said on German television, calling the crisis with the United States "the most devastating of the last 50 years."
Analysts expect Schroeder to adopt a softer tone after the election, but he showed no intention Monday of backing down. He has insisted he would not commit troops to a war in Iraq even if the United Nations backs military action.
"I have formulated a German position, and I have nothing to retract on that count," Schroeder told German television.
The rhetoric on Iraq reached a damaging peak in the final days of Schroeder's campaign when Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin was reported to have compared President Bush to Hitler for threatening war to distract from domestic problems. She denied saying it.
The Social Democrats said she would not have a post in a new government, although she will be in parliament.
The Bush administration has reacted coolly to Schroeder's moves to repair the damage, including a letter to the president, but others in Washington were optimistic the frayed relationship could be mended.
Speaking on CNN Sunday, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the "core relationship between the Republic of Germany and the United States is solid. What you had is Schroeder doing what a lot of politicians do, trying to get out his base."
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