Schroeder Rejects Use of Force to Solve Iran Crisis

BERLIN (Reuters)–German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder rejected the threat of military force against Iran on Sunday–hours after President George Bush said he would consider pressing Tehran to give up its nuclear program as a last resort.

Schroeder told an election rally in his home city of Hanover that the threat of force was unacceptable.

"I am worried about developmen’s there because no one can want the Iranian leadership to gain possession of atomic weapons," Schroeder said. "The Europeans and the Americans are united in this goal. Up to now we were also united in the way to pursue this."

"This morning I read that military options are now on the table. My answer to that is: `Dear friends in Europe and America–let us work out a strong negotiating position. But let’s take the military option off the table. We have seen it doesn’t work,’" he said.

The commen’s came after Bush told Israeli public broadcasting Channel 1 on August 12 that "all options are on the table," including using force.

Schroeder’s opposition to the Iraq war was seen as a decisive factor in his unexpected victory in the 2002 general election–which he won narrowly after coming from behind.

But his critical stance caused serious ruptures in Germany’s traditionally strong relations with the United States.

He faces another election this September. Schroeder’s Social Democrats are currently lagging the opposition conservatives–but the latter’s lead has shrunk in recent weeks.

Iran angered the European Union and the US by resuming uranium conversion at its Isfahan plant last week after rejecting an EU offer of political and economic incentives for giving up its nuclear program.

Tehran’says it aims only to produce electricity and denies accusations of seeking a nuclear bomb.

"We don’t want atomic weapons to be more widespread. And here–let me say this to those who have atomic weapons: We would all be more credible than we were in the past if getting rid of these weapons were addressed decisively," Schroeder stated.

President George W. Bush told Channel 1 on August 12 that he would consider using force as a last resort to press Iran to give up its nuclear program. "All options are on the table," said Bush–speaking at his ranch in Crawford–Texas. Asked if that included the use of force–Bush replied–"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."

Washington expressed last week a willingness to give negotiations on Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program more time before getting tougher with the country.

Germany’s conservatives have criticized Schroeder’s warnings against using military force against Iran–saying the chancellor is exploiting the issue for electoral gain. They accuse the chancellor of milking the issue to gain votes at a time when his ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens is heading for near certain defeat.

"Schroeder is acting completely irresponsibly for electoral purposes. He’s acting as though the problem was in Washington–rather than Tehran even through he knows that isn’t so," a senior foreign policy expert of the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) told the daily Die Welt.

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