Germany's Steinmeier proposes Afghan pull-out talks
BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is bidding to oust Angela Merkel as chancellor of Germany in an election next month, said he wanted a timetable for a military pull-out from Afghanistan.
Steinmeier, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) who share power with Merkel's conservatives, said once it became clear who would lead Afghanistan after last Thursday's election there, talks should begin over how long foreign troops should stay.
"We need to agree with the new Afghan president...how long international troops should remain in Afghanistan," he said at the sidelines of an election event in Dortmund on Saturday.
Merkel this week tried to quash a public debate about pulling troops out of Afghanistan that has grown louder as violence surged.
Although the issue has so far not played a big part in the run-up to Germany's September 27 federal election, polls show most voters want the 4,200 German troops in Afghanistan as part of a six-year-old NATO mission to return home.
The ruling coalition agreed last October to extend a parliamentary mandate for participation in the NATO mission by 14 months instead of the usual 12 in the hope of preventing debate over the deployment from coloring the election race.
Recent violence has prompted prominent political voices in Germany, including a former defense minister from Merkel's party, to press the government for a pull-out plan.
Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, a party ally of Merkel's, said on Thursday that he expected German troops to stay in Afghanistan for another five to 10 years and dismissed calls for troop cuts once the Afghan election was over.