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Germany's new foreign policy

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Europe Correspondent

BERLIN, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister of choice will shape a new German foreign policy that will be different in style and maybe even in substance, experts say.

Merkel's conservatives are in the process of hammering out a government road map with the Free Democratic Party led by Guido Westerwelle, who is favored to become the country's next foreign minister.

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Incumbent Frank-Walter Steinmeier has disagreed with Merkel over several foreign policy issues, but Westerwelle should surf on the same wave as the chancellor when it comes to international diplomacy.

"With Steinmeier now gone, there are no more excuses for Merkel's inactivity on certain foreign policy issues," John Hulsman, a political analyst with the Berlin-based German Council on Foreign Relations, or DGAP, told UPI in a telephone interview.

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Hulsman is mainly referencing Germany's most contentious issue -- Afghanistan, where some 4,500 Bundeswehr troops are deployed with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

"In Germany, there is huge public pressure not to do more in Afghanistan," Hulsman said, adding that he didn't expect the new government to succeed in making the mission more popular here in Germany.

At least Westerwelle and Merkel see eye-to-eye on Afghanistan; they are both against a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan but have vowed to increase police training efforts so that Afghan forces can establish and guarantee security themselves.

"Then the time will come to start a step-by-step pull-out of the international troops," Westerwelle said in an interview with IP, a political magazine published by the DGAP. "But whoever wants to rush into a pull-out today will make Kabul once again the capital of world terrorism."

Westerwelle, 48, in the interview also called on China, Russia, India and Iran to do more in Afghanistan.

The biggest change will probably come in relations with Moscow. Westerwelle is much more Russia-skeptic than Steinmeier and has openly blamed the Kremlin for the country's poor human-rights record. As the opposition leader, he has proposed cutting aid to countries that discriminate against women and minorities such as homosexuals. (Westerwelle is Germany's most prominent openly gay politician; he presented his partner Michael Mronz to the public four years ago).

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But don't expect a Russian-German detente.

"While the rhetoric could be a bit tougher toward Russia, Germany has an economic interest in Russia, so on substance, nothing much will change," Hulsman told UPI.

Observes expect U.S.-German relations to thrive, as Westerwelle is a known trans-Atlanticist.

"We want and need a closing of ranks with the United States," he said in a recent interview with IP.

The government has not been active enough since Barack Obama became U.S. president, Westerwelle said. Rather, the grand coalition has "missed the chance of influencing America's recent geostrategic shift because it did not come forward with its own ideas and suggestions," he told IP. "One reason for that is that the German enthusiasm for Barack Obama was nowhere shared less than in the federal government.

"Disarmament and arms control were instrumental in resolving the Cold War," he said. "Germany has shown that peace, freedom and prosperity can be achieved without weapons of mass destruction."

He said he was supportive of Obama's plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons but added that Germany and Washington should start by reducing or doing away with the remaining American nuclear warheads still stationed in Germany.

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