German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Tuesday it is crucial for the United States to restore its moral leadership among western countries by punishing those responsible for the abuse of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. He discussed the issue in Washington with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr. Powell's meeting with the German Foreign Minister centered on plans for a new U.N. Security Council resolution to endorse the transfer of power from the U.S.-led occupation to an Iraqi interim government on June 30.

However, the prisoner abuse issue is casting a shadow over the U.N. consultations and Mr. Fischer said that the United States needs to conduct a "merciless" investigation and punishment of the prison misconduct in order to restore what he termed its "irreplaceable" position of leadership in world affairs.

?We are really shocked and deeply appalled about the news we heard, the humiliation and abuse of Iraqi prisoners,? he said. ?We think those who are responsible must be brought to justice, but we need the United States. We need the moral leadership of the United States. It's important for the West, for all of us. And therefore, we are looking forward that this situation will lead I think to a restoration of the leadership, the moral leadership of the United States, because this is crucial for all of us.?

Mr. Powell for his part, said Americans are just as shocked by the images from the Iraqi prison as are other people around the world. He said the investigations of the scandal ordered by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are aimed at punishing those guilty of offenses at the scene, but also fixing the system and chain of command that allowed those abuses to occur:

?I'm confident that he and all the other investigating teams that he has commissioned will make sure that they get to the bottom of it, so that any weaknesses within the chain of command that manifested themselves in this matter will be dealt with and be fixed, as the fixes are necessary,? he said. ?So I don't think there is any intention just to single out individuals. Individuals are responsible for their actions, but we have to look at the entire system and I know that's what Secretary Rumsfeld and the President intend to do.?

Mr. Powell said he and Mr. Fischer agreed on how deplorable and painful it is to see some U.S. troops involved in such conduct. However, he added that "tens upon tens of thousands" of American service personnel are serving nobly and proudly in Iraq to restore a sense of security in the country and help the Iraqi people build a new democratic government.

The discussion of the new U.N. resolution on Iraq will continue Friday when Secretary Powell hosts Mr. Fischer and other foreign ministers of the G-8 industrialized nations at a State Department meeting that will also lay groundwork for the organization's summit in the U.S. state of Georgia next month.