Germany wants GM talks on Opel this week

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By AFP

Germany on Monday said it wants a GM executive to come to Berlin this week to explain why the US auto giant failed to choose a buyer for its European unit Opel amid growing fears of a transatlantic rift.

"Our aim is to organise a meeting this week in Berlin with a representative from General Motors' board," government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told a regular government briefing.

"We will then attempt to clear up any open questions in a constructive manner," he said.

"In recent weeks we have been able to clear up most of the open questions. Germany has done its homework ... There are two contracts ready to be signed.

"The decision to sell is GM's alone. But a sale will only work if the buyer can secure guarantees or aid from Germany and other European countries where Opel and (British arm) Vauxhall have plants," Wilhelm said.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier cranked up the pressure on the United States over the weekend, telling his US counterpart Hillary Clinton in a phone call that "the time had now come for a decision."

The Bild daily cited an unnamed source as saying that the US government felt it was being "slowly but surely blackmailed" by Berlin while the Financial Times reported that GM's board was also unhappy at the pressure coming from Germany.

Wilhelm, however, stressed that despite Chancellor Angela Merkel expressing her disappointment at the outcome of GM's board meeting on Friday, there was no spat with the administration of President Barack Obama.

"There are constant contacts with representatives of the US government ... parallel to the talks with GM," Wilhelm said.

"We have always managed to avoid any tensions in our transatlantic relations. The relations between the two governments are good and unaffected."

Germany, where around half of GM's 50,000 employees in Europe work, had hoped that GM executives would choose on Friday an offer for Opel from Canadian auto parts maker Magna and state-owned Russian lender Sberbank.

GM's board is widely believed to prefer a rival bid from Brussels-based investment group RHJ International, reportedly because of fears that valuable technological knowhow might end up in the hands of Russian carmakers.

GM, which is majority owned by the US government since the firm's bankruptcy in June, is also said to find RHJ more attractive because it would make a repurchase of Opel easier when times get better.

But during a telephone conference, GM's board stopped short of making a decision either way because it had identified "a few issues where there was a need for further clarification," Wilhelm said.

Berlin has offered 4.5 billion euros (6.4 billion dollars) worth of financing to support an Opel sale, but only for Magna, to the annoyance of other European governments such as Britain.

Germany -- with elections due on September 27 -- supports Magna because it believes that the the bulk of job cuts and plant closures that it will make in an attempt to make Opel profitable will happen in other countries.

Wilhelm also said that Germany has received "no indications" to support media reports that GM was considering holding on to Opel, which includes all GM's European operations except Saab but including Vauxhall in Britain.

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