German leader vows to intensify US ties


New German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated her intention to strengthen relations with the United States and smaller EU nations.

In an interview with Focusmagazine, Merkel also suggested the close links with Russia pursued by her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, were a lower priority for the new government.

"There will certainly be an intensification of relations with the smaller member states of the European Union. And a more intensive trans-Atlantic relationship," Merkel was quoted as saying in the interview, which is to be published on Monday.

Merkel said that was "not a message against others" and that Germany also needs good ties with Moscow.

"We want a strategic partnership with Russia and friendly relations. With the United States of America, we are anchored together in a military alliance, Nato. In Brussels, I very consciously visited Nato as well as the European institutions," she said of a trip she made to the Belgian capital on Wednesday, a day after taking office.

Merkel, a conservative, has repeatedly signalled her intention to repair traditionally strong German-US ties torn by Schroeder's decision in 2001 to join France and Russia in loudly opposing the war in Iraq.

Schroeder's position has also weighed on Berlin's relations with smaller EU nations, such as former communist states like Poland and Hungary, both Nato members which sent troops to Iraq.

However, Merkel leads a coalition government including Schroeder's Social Democrats and her foreign minister has said that there will be no change in Germany's refusal to send troops to Iraq.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is to leave tomorrow for talks with US officials including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has also expressed concern about allegations that the CIA may have used bases in Germany for clandestine flights carrying al-Qaeda suspects.