BERLIN -- Germany's endorsement of war as a last resort marks a shift of position on Iraq after months of often strident opposition, allowing Berlin to sound a conciliatory note toward Washington even as its leaders pledged to push for a peaceful solution.
Germany's new tone at a summit of European leaders this week showed that Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is gaining foreign policy influence over Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in a drawn-out battle over how much diplomatic conflict Germany can stomach.
In the summit's high-stakes bargaining to cobble together a common European stand, Germany successfully blocked a declaration from warning Saddam Hussein that "time is running out" - a phrase favored by Britain, as well as the United States.
But as part of the deal, Berlin explicitly acknowledged that war was an option - something it had avoided until recently.
"Germany, and Schroeder in particular, made a step he did not want to make before by saying there could be war," said Reinhardt Rummel, a foreign policy analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "The Germans had to agree to language that was previously ruled out."
Both Schroeder and Fischer still oppose a war to disarm Saddam Hussein, saying U.N. weapons inspectors should get more time - a call backed at the EU summit. And Schroeder stood by his refusal to support a new Security Council resolution authorizing force against Iraq. The United States and Britain are trying to draft such a measure.
"I see absolutely no need for a new resolution," Schroeder said on ARD television late Tuesday. "I am deeply convinced that all of us - that means all partners in this world - must work to give peace a chance and avoid war."
Other points agreed to by the EU leaders also pleased Germany: pledging to solve Iraq's disarmament through the United Nations, stating that a peaceful solution "is what the people of Europe want," and that war "is not inevitable."
"We remain committed to our peace policy," Fischer said in Berlin on Tuesday.
That includes a firm refusal to let Germans fight in an Iraq war. But now, the policy includes the notion that war by others might be necessary - putting Germany in line with France in a partnership recharged by common opposition to U.S. pressure for war.
Fischer had previously tried to keep the option open, sensing that Germany's international standing could suffer from Schroeder's open hostility to war under any circumstance.
Schroeder refused to budge, even dressing down Fischer's chief U.N. diplomat for suggesting that no new Security Council decision might be needed to authorize war.
The struggle has played out over the past nine months as Fischer balanced his mission of crafting a foreign policy with Schroeder's drive to keep his shaky government in power with an anti-war campaign platform.
"As I see it, Joschka Fischer has regained the initiative a bit for German diplomacy," Rummel said.
Despite their differences, the two leaders have critical common beliefs. Neither is persuaded by the U.S. case for war, a point driven home by Fischer in an emotional speech at a Munich security conference attended by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. On Tuesday, Fischer said he remains unconvinced.
Both also point out that Germany has contributed to international missions repeatedly since the end of the Cold War, sending peacekeepers to the Balkans and launching its biggest military deployment since World War II to help fight international terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks - in solidarity with the United States.
More deeply, they share a sense that because of its history Germany has a special duty to pursue peaceful solutions.
Karsten Voigt, the German Foreign Ministry's top official for relations with Washington, said Germany always asks three questions before sending its soldiers abroad - "about the morality, the legitimacy under international law and whether the use of military force is inevitable."
"In the case of Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, the answer was yes," he said in a telephone interview. "In Iraq, the answer is that we still believe force can be avoided."