Franz Josef Strauss’ unannounced, unofficial trip to Syria has dismayed the Bonn government and raised speculation as to the precise intentions behind the conservative Bavarian leader’s visit to Damascus for talks with President Hafez Assad.
Strauss heads the Christian Social Union, the ruling party in Bavaria and a close ally of Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). But Kohl was reported to have been surprised and angered on his return from the funeral of Yuri Andropov in Moscow, to learn of Strauss’ self-appointed mission.
Aides to Strauss said he was responding to a personal invitation from Assad at a time when contacts between Damascus and the West are at an extremely delicate stage owing to the situation in Lebanon and the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict. They refused to say whether Strauss considered his mission to be an attempt to mediate between the United States and Syria. He had not been asked to undertake such a role.
POSSIBLE MOVE TO SELL ARMS TO SYRIA
There are also rumors that Strauss may be trying to open the way for weapons sales to Syria by Bavarianbased arms manufacturers. Sources here recall that he initiated joint Franco-German arms sales to Syria several years ago, a deal approved by the Bonn government at the time because it involved weapons systems jointly produced by France and West Germany.
But according to many observers, the Bavarian leader’s venture into personal diplomacy in the Middle East may be an attempt to undermine the position of Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a leader of the small Free Democratic Party (FDP) which is the CDU’s coalition partner.
Genscher had served as Foreign Minister in the Social Democratic Party (SPD)-FDP coalition headed by former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. When the SPD was unseated by the CDU in last year’s elections, Strauss sought to replace Genscher as Foreign Minister and was angered when Kohl refused to appoint him. He has since been pressing for a government shuffle that would reduce the influence of the FDP which represents a liberal element in Kohl’s coalition.
Spokesman for the SPD opposition said today that Strauss’ strip to Syria and his other foreign policy activities damage West Germany’s reputation and are a burden on relations with other countries. The Foreign Ministry made it clear that Strauss had not been assigned any mission on the government’s behalf.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.