updated 10/13/2004 1:46:33 PM ET 2004-10-13T17:46:33

Peter Struck, Germany's defense minister, on Tuesday indicated Berlin could deploy troops in Iraq if conditions there changed, departing from his government's opposition to involvement under any circumstances.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr. Struck said: "At present I rule out the deployment of German troops in Iraq. In general, however, there is no one who can predict developments in Iraq in such a way that he could make a such a binding statement [about the future]."

Mr. Struck also welcomed the proposal by John Kerry, the Democratic challenger in the U.S. presidential election, that he would convene an international conference on Iraq including countries that opposed the war if he were to win next month's election.

Germany would certainly attend, Mr. Struck said. "This is a very sensible proposal. The situation in Iraq can only be cleared up when all those involved sit together at one table. Germany has taken on responsibilities in Iraq, including financial ones; this would naturally justify our involvement in such a conference."

Berlin has refused to comment on the outcome of the U.S. election, but Mr. Struck's comments are significant as Mr. Kerry has argued that he would be able to draw in countries to work in Iraq that opposed the war. Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, was a leading opponent of the U.S.-led Iraq war and his re-election in 2002 was secured in part on support for this stance.

Mr. Struck and other German officials said developments in Iraq meant the position over troops was under constant review, noting that Berlin was already providing financial assistance to Iraq and training Iraqi troops and police officers in the United Arab Emirates.

A senior official said: "When the situation in Iraq changes, when elections have been held, or there are other developments, then we will make decisions on this basis." If a democratically-elected Iraqi government were to ask the U.N. for support, the international community, including Germany, must be in a position to respond, the official added.

Mr. Struck said Germany's attendance at the conference proposed by Mr. Kerry did not mean Berlin would immediately deploy troops. Analysts in Berlin argue that a Kerry victory would increase pressure on Germany to step up its involvement in Iraq, even though public opinion is still firmly against the U.S. role in Iraq and against any heightened German engagement.

Mr. Struck said he could envisage Germany making a larger "political contribution to stability in the [Middle East] region", building on mediation efforts in recent years by Joschka Fischer, foreign minister, regarding Israel and the Palestinians.

Germany announced last month a shipment of 20 armored vehicles to the Iraqi military, as part of Berlin's increased involvement in NATO-led reconstruction efforts there.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.


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