Westerwelle's office dismissed a report in Wednesday's edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that, in the midst of a debate about whether to intervene to stop Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi's aerial bombardment of rebels and civilians, the minister wanted to vote “No” in the United Nations Security Council.
But similar reports have now surfaced elsewhere. News magazine Der Spiegel reported that reliable sources among coalition circles confirmed the FAZ report. Only after speaking to Chancellor Angela Merkel last Thursday afternoon, shortly before the vote in New York, did Westerwelle apparently agree to abstain, they said.
Daily Süddeutsche Zeitung also reported on Thursday that a “No” vote had been a serious possibility.
Germany eventually abstained, alongside China and Russia – a move that itself raised eyebrows. But a “No” vote would have been considerably more serious.
FAZ's report claimed Westerwelle had been ready to instruct Germany's UN ambassador, Peter Wittig, to vote against the motion, which would have been a slap in the face to close allies France, Britain and the United States, all of whom supported the resolution.
Germany assumed its two-year spot on the Security Council in January, promising to take a leadership role. The UN Security Council eventually voted last Thursday to permit "all necessary measures" to impose a no-fly zone, protect civilian areas and impose a ceasefire on Qaddafi's military.
Both Westerwelle's office and the Chancellery denied the reports of a planned ''No'' vote.
“This portrayal is wrong,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Westerwelle had been in complete agreement with Merkel and Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière, the spokesman said. Westerwelle and Merkel had made their shared view plain at a cabinet meeting last Wednesday.
The suggestion that Westerwelle wanted to go further and vote “No” was “a story from the realm of fantasy” that “someone without knowledge of the actual events is concocting.”
But according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the sources behind the story were familiar with the chain of events and a “No” vote would certainly have been at least discussed during Germany's deliberations. It would have been rejected by Chancellor Angela Merkel's office on the grounds that it would caused a diplomatic disaster.
But Berlin has faced plenty of criticism for its abstention, which has been slammed as being extremely detrimental to German foreign policy.
Karsten Voigt, a former coordinator for US-German relations, said Germany's ham-fisted diplomatic efforts had damaged transatlantic ties and weakened Berlin's influence globally.
“Germany's behaviour has been heavily criticized in the USA,” the member of the centre-left Social Democrats told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau on Thursday.
“As a European power and with consideration to the USA and France, Germany should have voted for it,” Voigt said, referring to the UN resolution.
The assessment from other members of the opposition has been equally withering.
Frithjof Schmidt, deputy leader of the Greens' parliamentary group, told the website of daily Handelsblatt on Thursday that Germany could now essentially shelve its ambitions for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
“Germany has isolated itself by abstaining,” said Schmidt, explaining that it appeared as if Berlin did not take the plight of Libya's population seriously. “That's certainly not the best foundation for a successful bid for a permanent seat.”
And on Tuesday, Berlin announced its warships would not participate in a NATO operation in the Mediterranean to enforce a UN-mandated arms embargo on Libya - a decision that drew a baffled response across the political spectrum.
"To place your forces under allied command but withdraw them when those forces may have to engage is a bald contradiction," political scientist Christian Tuschoff at Berlin's Free University said.
"Germany is no longer a credible partner in the Atlantic alliance. It has turned its back for the first time on the course it has pursued since World War II - this is a historic break with the past."