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German President Takes Swipe At Global Powers As Munich Conference Opens


German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich on February 14.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich on February 14.

Germany’s president has suggested that Russia and China, along with the United States, were stoking global instability, as he warned of the danger that the three were slipping into a new "great power" competition and nuclear arms race.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier made the comments on February 14 at the opening of the Munich Security Conference, a high-level diplomatic and political gathering held annually in the German city since 1963.

Nearly three dozen heads of state, diplomats, and others were scheduled to attend this year’s conference, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

"Russia...has made military force and the violent shifting of borders on the European continent the means of politics once again," Steinmeier said in his opening remarks.

"China...accepts international law only selectively where it does not run counter to its own interests," he said.

"And our closest ally, the United States of America, under the present administration itself, rejects the idea of an international community,” he said.

"'Great again' -- even at the expense of neighbors and partners," Steinmeier said, a reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan: "Make America Great Again."

The upshot, Steinmeier said, is "more mistrust, more armament, less security...all the way to a new nuclear arms race.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper were the highest-level U.S. officials scheduled to attend; both were slated to participate in a panel discussion, along with Stoltenberg, on February 15.

Current Tensions

The annual conference has long been a gathering of world leaders and has occasionally been conducted during times of strained U.S.-European relations, such as during the debate over the Iraq war in early 2003.

But the current level of tension exceeds that of previous years and involves a wider range of issues.

Tensions could also develop within the U.S. contingent. The senior Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is traveling to the conference, where she will be with members of Trump’s administration.

Pelosi played a key role in the impeachment effort against Trump, who was acquitted of two articles in a Senate trial.

The presence of Pompeo and Esper have given hope that there may be a major breakthrough on the sidelines of the conference when they meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Participants in talks between U.S. and Taliban negotiators have given strong indications that a seven-day "reduction in violence" agreement that would lead to formal negotiations between Afghanistan's warring factions is close.

Ahead of the gathering, conference Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger focused on two war-torn countries, saying he was "deeply troubled" about the "unforgivable failure" of the international community on Syria, and he expressed disappointment that a Libya peace plan negotiated recently in Berlin had not gained ground.

"We have more crises, more serious crises, more horrific events than one can actually imagine," he said.

Protests are expected at the event, and some 3,900 police are set to be deployed to the site to help provide security.

With reporting by dpa and AP

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