BERLIN (Reuters) - German conservative Norbert Roettgen has openly declared his ambition to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor if he wins a contest for the leadership of their Christian Democrats (CDU), although he also suggested he could back Bavaria's leader.
Roettgen, a foreign policy expert, is an outsider in the race to succeed Merkel, though he has raised his profile by calling for "hard politics" with Russia in response to the alleged poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Merkel, in power since 2005, has said she will not seek re-election in federal elections due by October next year.
"I claim to want to become chancellor and to be able to do so," Roettgen told business daily Handelsblatt.
But he added that the conservative alliance of the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), dubbed "the Union", must have the best possible line-up.
"The CDU leader must want the candidacy for chancellor. But he must also be humble enough to do what is best for the party. He must decide on this together with the CSU chairman," he said.
The CDU plans to choose a new leader at a Dec. 3-5 congress. The party could, in theory, elect a new leader but choose Markus Soeder, the CSU chairman and Bavarian premier, as the Union's chancellor candidate.
Roettgen wanted the personnel questions resolved this year.
An infratest dimap poll for broadcaster ARD published last week showed Roettgen ranked as German voters' fourth choice to run as the Union's chancellor candidate, behind Soeder, erstwhile Merkel rival Friedrich Merz, and Armin Laschet, premier of the most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia.
No chancellor has ever come from the CSU, although Franz Josef Strauss and Edmund Stoiber of the CSU were the Union candidates in the 1980 and 2002 federal elections, respectively, which were both won by the Social Democrats.
(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Hugh Lawson)