Schroeder's chief of staff to become Germany's next foreign minister

Frank Walter Steinmeier, outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's chief of staff, expected to become Germany's next foreign minister, a top Social Democratic official said Thursday.

Matthias Platzeck, the Social Democratic governor of Brandenburg state, confirmed the choice of Steinmeier along with other party picks for Cabinet posts allocated to them in a proposed coalition government with conservative Chancellor-designate Angela Merkel.

Social Democratic Party chairman Franz Muentefering will serve as Germany's vice chancellor and labor minister, he confirmed.

Steinmeier, a 49-year-old lawyer, has been a powerful but relatively low-profile figure who has served on Schroeder's staff since the outgoing chancellor was governor of Lower Saxony. He joined Schroeder's administration there in 1991 and moved with Schroeder to the chancellery in Berlin in 1998 as a deputy, replacing Bodo Umbach in 1999 as chief of staff. Unlike his predecessor as chief of staff, Steinmeier did not hold Cabinet rank.

The choice of a close Schroeder associate as foreign minister post raises questions about how much Merkel will be able to reorient Germany's foreign policy. She has vowed to reinvigorate ties with the United States frayed by Schroeder's opposition to the war in Iraq, and to place less emphasis on Schroeder's close partnership with France.

Steinmeier met with then-U.S. Ambassador Dan Coats as Schroeder was criticizing the looming war in Iraq during his successful 2002 re-election campaign, reports the AP.

P.T.