Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has his legs crossed and his arms behind his head. He has something he is dying to say about Joschka Fischer, who was German foreign minister under Schröder from 1998 to 2005.
"I doubt very much that it will be possible to run Nabucco profitably without gas from Iran," says Schröder, as a smug grin appears on his face. "But Joschka will undoubtedly resolve the conflict with Iran."
Schröder chuckles hoarsely. He clearly enjoys the subject. The Nabucco pipeline is supposed to transport natural gas from Central Asia to Europe; construction is slated to begin next year. Fischer is promoting the project on behalf of two energy companies.
Iran is a problem, Schröder says a second time. "Tell that to Joschka when you see him," he says with his famous wolfish grin.
Fischer doesn't find the former chancellor's message the least bit amusing. Fischer is known for poking fun at other people, but he isn't very good at being the butt of someone else's jokes -- particularly Schröder's.
In a recent newspaper article about Afghanistan, Fischer wrote about "cumulative threats" and recommended that "all of the crises in this region need to be contained and perhaps even resolved: the Middle East, Iraq, the Gulf, Iran, Kashmir." All of the crises in the region? Fischer is nothing if not ambitious.
Fischer and Schröder are sparring once again. Although the subject of their spat has changed -- from political power to pipelines -- the contours are still more or less the same.
The former chancellor is working with the Russians, and his pipeline is called Nord Stream. The former foreign minister is working against the Russians, and his pipeline is called Nabucco. The two men are playing a modern-day version of the Great Game, the 19th-century struggle between Britain and Russia over control of Central Asia. This time around, the game involves the energy supply of the future and a finite resource: natural gas.
But when Fischer takes on Schröder, it isn't just a contest over who has the longest pipeline. In fact, it is only another chapter in the rivalry between two of the biggest egos in German politics, a contest that has been going on for more than a decade and has yet to be decided.
Success or Failure
The part about Iran is complete nonsense, Fischer says in response to Schröder's smug remarks. "Just think about what it will mean if Nabucco doesn't happen," he says. "The region, the geopolitical situation, Moscow!" He raises his arms into the air in a gesture of exasperation.
A Nabucco failure would not just be a geopolitical calamity. It wouldn't be great news for Fischer, either, who is being paid to promote the project by the German utility giant RWE and the Austrian oil and gas company OMV. He has a personal interest in Nabucco being a success, while Schröder has a personal interest in it being a failure.
The Nabucco project is intended to make the Germans less dependent on Russian gas. Russian energy giant Gazprom, which leads the Nord Stream consortium, has no interest in Germany becoming less dependent on Russian gas -- which is why Schröder, who is chairman of Nord Stream's shareholders' committee, is against Nabucco.
It is part of the ongoing rivalry between two men who endured seven years in government together. Now they are fighting over who controls the post-government period.