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Germany guarantees U.S. air rights

Schroeder: " There's no need for the Bundestag to take a vote on this."

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BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) -- Germany guaranteed U.S. troops flyover rights in an Iraq war on Wednesday despite its own opposition to an attack and warnings that military action may breach international law.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also rejected opposition calls for a parliamentary vote on allowing German troops on NATO reconnaissance flights over Turkey and on keeping nuclear and chemical contamination detection units in Kuwait.

Such a vote could damage Schroeder because he might fail to muster his own slim majority to back German military operations, even though any motion would be passed with the votes of opposition conservatives.

Several members of his coalition of Social Democrats and Greens have voiced reservations about allowing Germans to join NATO AWACS radar plane crews patrolling Turkey's airspace, arguing the flights could assist the U.S. attack.

The German constitution forbids offensive military action and any moves to assist it.

Legal experts have suggested granting flyover rights to U.S. forces could contravene that rule if the war they are involved in breaches international law.

A challenge before the Constitutional Court would have a good chance of success, said international law expert Andreas von Arnauld of Berlin's Free University.

Schroeder said the AWACS aircraft, requested by NATO partner Turkey to help protect itself from any Iraqi attack, would be strictly separated from U.S. Central Command.

He said the U.S. military had almost 100 of its own AWACS planes to coordinate an attack on Iraq.

Germany's constitution, drafted to avoid a repeat of past militarism, requires the Bundestag lower house of parliament to approve any deployment of troops outside the NATO area.

"We're convinced there's no need for the Bundestag to take a vote on this," Schroeder told parliament during a budget debate.

Neither was there any need for a vote on whether to keep German troops in Kuwait, who are stationed there to detect nuclear, biological and chemical contamination as part of Berlin's contribution to the U.S.-led "war on terrorism" following the September 11 attacks.

The Kuwait mission is covered by a Bundestag mandate that Schroeder narrowly won in 2001 when he pinned it to a vote of confidence.

"We have made our political position on an Iraq war clear," Schroeder said.

"But this clear position which contrasts with that of our alliance partners the United States and Britain doesn't change the fact that these are alliance partners and friends."

Germany was obliged to grant transit rights to alliance partners under NATO rules and other treaties, he said as well as help guard U.S. bases in the country.

"There may be differing positions on international law but based on our alliance commitments we will continue to permit the use of bases, won't withdraw flyover rights and of course we will protect the installations and if needed the families of our friends."

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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