Schroeder draws fire afterraising US war threat on Iran
15 August 2005, BERLIN - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder drew fire on Monday for making the spectre of a U.S. military attack to halt Iran's nuclear programme a major issue in his struggling re-election bid.
15 August 2005
BERLIN - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder drew fire on Monday for making the spectre of a U.S. military attack to halt Iran's nuclear programme a major issue in his struggling re-election bid.
"A nuclear Iran is too dangerous to become a campaign issue," said Gary Smith, director of Berlin's American Academy think-tank, adding, "Germany should bear in mind its historic responsibility to the state of Israel."
Smith, who has been dubbed the secret U.S. ambassador to Germany, said there was no talk in Washington of a war with Iran and American diplomats were "working feverishly" to help the European Union trio - Britain, France and Germany - reach a diplomatic deal with Teheran.
Even before Schroeder's remarks, it was proving difficult enough for European-U.S. negotiations to succeed with Iran's new hardline government, he said.
Germany, France and Britain are seeking a diplomatic deal with Teheran offering trade and aid in exchange for Iran's giving up its nuclear programme which many observers say is aimed at building a bomb.
But Iran last week resumed uranium conversion after rejecting the E.U. trio's offer of economic and technical aid in exchange for halting controversial nuclear research.
Paul A. Wood, a U.S. embassy spokesman in Berlin, would not directly comment on Schroeder's making American Iran policy into an election issue.
But he underlined that U.S. President George W. Bush strongly supported the efforts of the E.U. trio to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.
"The president has been very supportive of France, Germany and Britain's efforts to resolve this peacefully," Wood said.
Chancellor Schroeder at the weekend spotlighted Iran at an election rally and in interviews kicking off his bid for a third term in office.
"Take the military option off the table - we have already seen it doesn't work!" said Schroeder in a speech Saturday to 10,000 cheering supporters in his native Hanover.
In remarks to the Bild am Sonntag tabloid, Schroeder added: "The situation is very serious. I view the military option as highly dangerous. Therefore I can clearly rule out any participation of the German government under my leadership."
This was a clear echo of his repeated 'nein' to sending troops to Iraq which was a stock part of his campaign speech in 2002.
Schroeder was replying to an interview given by Bush to Israeli TV in which the U.S. president said he would consider using force against Iran as a last resort to halt its nuclear programme.
"As I say, all options are on the table. The use of force is the last option for any president, and you know we've used force in the recent past to secure our country," said Bush.
Opposition leaders and newspapers questioned Schroeder's using fears of an Iran war, especially after reports last week that U.S., Israeli and British intelligence believe Iran is 10 years away from building a nuclear bomb.
"What does this government have to offer voters besides tickling their anti-American reflexes?" said a commentary in the newspaper Die Welt.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper said Schroeder was merely replacing Iraq with Iran for his 2005 election campaign. The German leader narrowly won re-election in 2002 after making his opposition to the Iraq war a top campaign theme.
"Schroeder's hurried pacifism and making big gestures to reject things which nobody is demanding still works on market squares," said the Frankfurter Allgemeine.
A deputy leader of the opposition Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU), whose chancellor candidate Angela Merkel leads Schroeder in all opinion polls, slammed the German leader's remarks.
"The chancellor is awakening the fatal impression in Tehran that the international community is no longer united. In doing so he is accepting that the danger of an Iranian atomic bomb grows," said CDU/CSU foreign policy expert Wolfgang Schaeuble.
Die Welt agreed, saying Schroeder "has torpedoed the European and American negotiating position".
Schroeder's upgrading of the Iran crisis in Germany's election comes just five weeks before voters go to the polls on September 18, with the chancellor badly trailing Merkel.
Germany's top six polls give Merkel's CDU/CSU and her designated Free Democratic (FDP) ally between 47 per cent and 53 per cent.
Schroeder's ruling SPD-Greens government is at between 33 per cent and 38 per cent.
But with Merkel's poll ratings slipping, some observers predict her CDU/CDU-FDP coalition may not muster a majority on election day. This could force the creation of a grand coalition of Merkel's CDU/CSU with Schroeder's SPD - which both leaders insist they do not want.
Subject: German news