The Associated Press
BERLIN -- Germany's president expressed concern Monday that the United States had lowered the threshold for war with its invasion of Iraq, but he also criticized some in his own nation for their harsh tone in opposing U.S. policy.
Johannes Rau, whose post is largely ceremonial, urged German and U.S. leaders to repair their bitter rift over Iraq and insisted that Europe and America depend on each other "to solve the great challenges of our time."
But Rau echoed a widespread sentiment in Germany when he questioned U.S. policy in a foreign affairs speech in Berlin, just days after German leaders tried to smooth relations during a visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
While war must be allowed as a last resort, "I see the danger that when we speak of 'last resort,' we are actually in a process of getting accustomed, where military intervention and war ultimately become one means among many," Rau said.
"The differing viewpoints haven't only been about Iraq," he said. "We have to discuss that with each other -- without rejecting the other's moral view out of hand or denying them the right to see problems in a different light."
Rau's reminder of German reservations toward the Bush administration's policies came as Economics and Labor Minister Wolfgang Clement left on a U.S. trip accompanied by a delegation of business leaders -- a sign of reviving trans-Atlantic contacts after the Iraq war and of the unbroken strength of commercial ties.
Clement, one of Schroeder's most trusted Cabinet members, was expected to meet U.S. administration officials, including Treasury Secretary John Snow, and preside over meetings between German and U.S. business executives during three days in Washington and New York.
The German group includes senior executives from companies such as automaker DaimlerChrysler, construction company Hochtief and Deutsche Bank.
Rau, a Social Democrat like Schroeder, appeared to take aim at members of Schroeder's center-left government when he deplored "the choice of words, the tone and a wrong, overdrawn personalization" in public criticism of the U.S. policy on Iraq.
Statements angering the U.S. administration the most included comparisons by senior Social Democrats comparing President Bush to Hitler or Julius Caesar.
But Rau, whose office carries more moral than political weight, has himself angered U.S. officials by voicing European suspicions over Bush's use of religious references to defend the need for military action against Iraq.
"I don't believe that one people can get a message from God to free another people," Rau said in March. "There are situations in which war is inevitable, but that wasn't the case in Iraq."
Still, Rau said he was confident that emotional bonds between Germany and the United States would endure.
"The trans-Atlantic partnership will be more than just an alliance of convenience also in future," he said. "It is a community founded on values and convictions. Differences of opinion, even on important foreign policy issues, do not destroy the friendship between Germans and Americans."