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Steinmeier heads to DC for talks with Clinton

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Steinmeier heads to DC for talks with Clinton
Photo: DPA
20:07 CET+01:00
Hillary Clinton was to discuss Afghanistan and Iran when she meets with her British and German counterparts on Tuesday in her first high-level meetings since becoming secretary of state two weeks ago.

Unlike Britain, Germany has balked at following the plans of US President Barack Obama's administration to send more troops to Afghanistan than it already is and has voiced doubt about its plans to engage diplomatically with Iran.

State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said Monday that Clinton would meet British Foreign Secretary David Miliband at 10:30 am (1530 GMT) Tuesday and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier two hours later.

"I expect these will be very, very substantive meetings, and she (Clinton) looks forward to meeting with her counterparts from the UK and Germany," Wood told reporters.

"I think Iran is certainly going to be up there near the top" of the agenda, Wood said. "I think Iran and Afghanistan will certainly be there," he said, adding Afghanistan is "central to this administration's foreign policy."

Wood said he understood Miliband would be the first foreign minister Clinton would meet since she took over the reins of US foreign policy on January 22.

After Obama was inaugurated president on January 20, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown vowed to strengthen Britain's "special relationship" with the United States under the new US president. Brown, whose predecessor Tony Blair was controversially close to former president George W. Bush, has been keen to bolster ties now that the new US administration has taken office.

Britain was America's strongest ally during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and ousting of the Taliban government there in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States, and continues to have the second-largest contingent of troops in the country, with more than 8,000 soldiers based there.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said January 20 that Obama's becoming president did not mean Germany would send more troops to Afghanistan, and was doubtful whether talking to Iran would bear fruit. She pledged that Germany "will live up to its responsibilities in Afghanistan," where it has around some more than 3,300 troops mostly in the relatively the calmer north.

But she added: "We took our decisions based on our capabilities, our skills, not on who is president."

Germany decided last year to increase to 4,500 the number of troops it has in Afghanistan where they form part of NATO's 50,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Obama has singled out Afghanistan as his main front in the war on terrorism and plans to deploy 30,000 more US troops there over the next 18 months, but he is likely to draw a blank if he presses Germany either to send more soldiers or to deploy those already present to the more volatile south.

Merkel said that while it could "make sense" for Obama to seek diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria, as he has promised, she was skeptical on his chances of success.

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