Steinmeier takes rare swipe at Merkel over Turkey

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HAMBURG, Oct 27 (Reuters) German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticised Chancellor Angela Merkel today for holding out the prospect of EU membership for Turkey only to withdraw support at the crucial moment.

In a rare swipe at the Christian Democrat leader and coalition partners with his Social Democrats, Steinmeier also slammed Merkel for talking up human rights through German media rather than using more effective channels.

Steinmeier and Merkel have cooperated on foreign policy in the first two years of their coalition. But with the next election in two years and the SPD lagging the CDU in opinion polls, his comments appeared to be another sign of tension.

''When we speak out for human rights it's not just for a quick headline back home,'' said Steinmeier, referring to Merkel's recent high-profile talk of human rights in China and Russia that has caused tensions with both countries.

In surprisingly blunt comments from the normally diplomatic Steinmeier, he told an SPD party congress that Merkel and the CDU held out the promise of EU membership for Turkey for decades, contingent on reforms, but then withdrew support.

Merkel favours a privileged partnership with Ankara, short of membership.

''At the crucial moment they caved in,'' he said. ''What can I do with a party like the conservatives that acts like that?'' He also hit out at Merkel for telling the United States in 2003 that not all Germans opposed the Iraq war.

''That was a mistake,'' he said. ''And I won't forget that.'' Steinmeier drew cheers from the 525 delegates for indirectly criticising U.S. President George W. Bush and his Iran policies.

''Military adventures won't contribute to a solution,'' he said.

''On the contrary, daily ranting only makes it harder to find a solution. Anyone who talks about war...has already lost.'' After Steinmeier's speech, SPD delegates passed a resolution backing the deployment of German special forces in Afghanistan. Many SPD members had signalled their opposition.

Parliament will vote next month on renewing a mission which allows Germany to send up to 100 special forces.

Germany has roughly 3,000 troops in NATO's 40,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

REUTERS SZ PM0137

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