BERLIN, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- The incoming German government has renewed calls for the remaining U.S. nuclear warheads to be removed from Germany.
"We will take President Obama at his word and enter talks with our allies so that the last of the nuclear weapons still stationed in Germany, relics of the Cold War, can finally be removed," Guido Westerwelle, Germany's next foreign minister, said Sunday at a congress of his Free Democratic Party, the junior partner in the German government. "Germany must be free of nuclear weapons."
The remarks come a day after Westerwelle's FDP and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union agreed on the basic policies for their center-right coalition government.
Merkel on Saturday upon the policy plan's presentation in Berlin said she was generally supporting the plan to withdraw the U.S. warheads but stepped on the diplomatic brakes by pledging that there would be no pressure from Berlin.
"We do not want any independent action here," she said, cautioning Westerwelle, who seems to be eager to score points with the nuclear weapons issue here in Germany.
In Germany, an estimated 20 to 30 warheads (the German government doesn't give any figures) remain at a German Luftwaffe base in Buechel, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
Westerwelle as an opposition leader had urged Berlin to do more to remove the nuclear weapons; after 11 years in the opposition, he will soon be part of the German government. Westerwelle will take office as foreign minister later this month, a position many say is not a perfect fit for him.
While his FDP is a strong proponent of trans-Atlantic ties, Westerwelle is an expert in economic and finance policy and has little foreign policy experience.
He is notorious for his poor English skills and was recently lampooned when he refused to answer a journalist's question in English, snapping at the BBC reporter, "This is Germany here."
Among Merkel's Conservatives, not everyone is happy about Westerwelle's public diplomacy.
Earlier this year CDU lawmaker Ruprecht Polenz in an interview with Berlin-based newspaper Tagespiegel warned against "laying down the law or pressurizing the Americans in this matter." A senior foreign policy expert, Polenz said it was up to the Americans to decide how they wanted to protect their troops.
Over the past two decades Washington has significantly reduced the number of nuclear weapons in Europe -- from a record Cold War height of more than 7,000 to an estimated 240 bombs today. And even those explosives have diminished in significance, as nuclear warheads today aren't dropped from B2 bombers, but are mounted on long-distance missiles.
The remaining bombs are stationed in five NATO countries: Italy, Turkey, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.