Germany's finance minister said yesterday that the country would refuse to pay anything towards an invasion of Iraq, a remark that will further strain relations with the United States.
Hans Eichel, quoted in yesterday's edition of the tabloid daily Bild, said: "One thing is clear: we will not provide any financial support for a war against Iraq."
Mr Eichel said an invasion could require higher spending by the German government, but he said the money would go towards extra security measures to be taken in Germany.
Germany contributed some $5.5bn to the allied drive to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991 because it said at the time that its constitution forbade sending troops abroad. That restriction, in place since the second world war, has since been lifted.
The chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, stirred the anger of the Bush administration with a re-election campaign decrying America's plans for a "military adventure" in the Middle East. By polling day, President Bush was said to be furious at reports that the then German justice minister had compared his tactics with those of Adolf Hitler.
Mr Schröder flatly ruled out German military participation in any plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Despite predictions of a u-turn after the election, and the abandoning since then of pledges in other areas such as taxation, the chancellor has so far held broadly to his line on Iraq.
Nevertheless, under pressure from Washington he has had to make a string of concessions at the margins. He has assured the Americans that they will be able to use German airspace and their own bases in Germany in the event of war, and that German crews will continue to fly NATO's AWACS early warning aircraft, which could be used to control operations.
If the latest request from Washington were to be met, German troops would take over the guarding of US bases - a move that could free up American soldiers for the invasion itself.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002