Germans gripe that Kohl skips U.N.'s 50th Chancellor says he wouldn't have gotten enough time to speak


BERLIN -- So many world leaders went to the United Nations celebrations this week that it has taken a few days for Germans to realize Chancellor Helmut Kohl was not among them.

Because Mr. Kohl is one of Europe's veteran leaders, and because Germany is a possible candidate for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, his absence has raised eyebrows here.

The grumbling spilled over into Parliament on Wednesday, with several members criticizing Mr. Kohl for choosing to stay home.

"Was it arrogance, error or simply indifference to the U.N. that kept you away from the celebrations?" asked Eberhard Brecht of the opposition Social Democrats.

Another opposition figure, Helmut Lippelt, said the absence reflected "a remarkable gap between the rhetoric and the reality of German policy toward the U.N."

Other members of Parliament described Mr. Kohl's absence as "a serious failure" that reflected his "arrogance of power."

Eventually, Mr. Kohl took to the floor to defend himself. He said he decided to stay away from New York because, like other world leaders, he would have been able to address the General (( Assembly for only five minutes.

"It does not make a very convincing impression on the citizens of the world to deliver a welcoming address under these conditions," he said. "I'm convinced that this was not the right way to do things."

Mr. Kohl dismissed suggestions that he could have met with other world leaders in New York: "I don't have to go to New York to speak with Yasser Arafat about the Middle East peace process."

He described the United Nations as "important, decisive and worthy of support," adding that "no one in Europe or anywhere else" backed the world body more than Germany.

Politicians and commentators have suggested that the chancellor may have decided to remain at home because he is less than enthusiastic about the idea of a permanent German seat on the Security Council.

Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel does not share Mr. Kohl's doubts and reportedly lobbied for a council seat when he represented Germany at the United Nations.

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