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Steinmeier to visit Iraq in sign of support for Obama

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Steinmeier to visit Iraq in sign of support for Obama
14:10 CET+01:00
Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be the first German foreign minister to visit Baghdad next year since Berlin's opposition to the Iraq war. The visit is seen as a strong sign of support for US president-elect Barack Obama's Middle East policy.

German business daily Handelsblatt and news magazine Der Spiegel both reported that government sources had confirmed Steinmeier would travel to Baghdad early next year.

The visit is meant to send a strong message to US president-elect Barack Obama that his Middle East policies may get more support in Berlin than those of current US President George W. Bush. The visit is also a sign that the German government plans to normalize relations with Iraq, the reports said.

The trip is still in the early planning stages and no concrete date has been set, according to a foreign ministry spokesman quoted by the papers. But Steinmeier has reportedly instructed his aides to look into concrete reconstruction projects in Iraq that Germany can help with.

Germany, under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, strongly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, leading to a chill in relations between the two countries. Steinmeier served as chief of staff to Schröder who won re-election largely because of his opposition to the Iraq war.

On Saturday, Steinmeier told the Hamburger Abendblatt Germany wanted a "new start to relations between Europe and America" with Obama's election. The minister played down fears that Obama will ask Berlin for more troops in Afghanistan.

Steinmeier said it was important Obama support not just sending more troops into Afghanistan but doing more for the country's reconstruction. "We're on the same page as Obama. We can only have success in Afghanistan if we don't focus on military means alone," Steinmeier said.

Earlier, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Steinmeier said it was smart that Obama had no plans for an immediate pullout in Iraq. "That's good reasoning, because an immediate withdrawal would dangerously destabilize the country," he said.

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