Iran Row Germany Debates Military Option
UPI | February 14 2006
By Stefan Nicola
Germany's grand coalition government is bickering over whether Iran's nuclear ambitions should be stopped with a military strike.
Over the past few days, leading Social Democrat politicians have criticized conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel after she made comments that implied the possibility of a military strike against Iran at a security conference in Munich earlier this month.
"Military options have to come off the table. We as Social Democrats have a clear position on that," party Chairman Matthias Platzeck said.
Merkel, during a speech in Munich, compared recent remarks by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in which he denied the Holocaust and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," to the rise of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. She said Tehran should not expect to receive any tolerance from Berlin.
"We have learned from our history," Merkel said, referring to a time when Europeans slept during Hitler's ascendancy, which eventually led to the systematic killing of some 6 million Jews. "Now we see that there were times when we could have acted differently. For that reason Germany is obliged to intervene at an early stage... to make clear (to Iran) what is OK and what isn't."
Social Democrat Secretary General Hubertus Heil told the Tagesspiegel, a Berlin-based newspaper: "I expect that the chancellor will not steer a different foreign policy course than we Social Democrats have done for years... There can't be a military option."
The course of the past years has been one of military abstinence. Merkel's predecessor in office, Gerhard Schroeder, railed against the Iraq war in the 2002 election campaign and won despite a poor initial response.
German armed forces are active in several foreign peacekeeping missions and in 1998 sent bombers to aid the war in Kosovo. Given their history, however, most Germans deeply resent taking part in war, and such a decision would almost certainly lead to the defeat of any party in power.
Conservative politicians have defended Merkel's speech, and said no option should be categorically factored out of the difficult Iran equation.
Eckart von Klaeden, a Christian Democrat policy expert, told the daily Passauer Neue Presse that the international community had to show unity in the conflict with Iran.
"It has to belong to the strategy of the international community to leave Iran oblivious about possible reactions to uncooperative behavior," he said. "They have to know that going back to the negotiation table... is in their own interest."
Von Klaeden added the Social Democrats were using the topic to round up votes for the six state elections coming up this year.
Merkel seems to have no issues with the most important Social Democrat involved, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who said both politicians are on the same page when it comes to Iran.
"Chancellor Merkel and I see negotiations as the path for a diplomatic solution which we are committed to proceed with," Steinmeier said Sunday evening in an interview with the German ZDF public television network, a day before he was to travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Asked about a military option against Iran, he said: "We shouldn't answer questions that aren't posed... But at the moment negotiations have reached a dead-end."
According to the BBC, Iran resumed full-scale uranium enrichment Monday.
Tehran announced its intention nine days ago, when the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, referred the Islamic Republic to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions. The Security Council will meet at the beginning of March.
The United States and Europe believe Iran, which has the right to enrich uranium for civil purposes, is secretly using the process to build nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the allegations.
The German government has high hopes for a compromise proposal put forth by Russia, under which Tehran could enrich uranium on Russian soil to alleviate the West's fears.
The two parties had agreed to meet Thursday to discuss the proposal, but an Iranian government spokesman Monday said the talks would be pushed back "indefinitely" because due to recent developments, the BBC reported.
This has the Israelis especially concerned, for they fear an Iranian nuclear attack would first be directed at them. Experts are unsure, however, whether Iran even has the know-how and the materiel to build a nuclear weapon, or how long it would take them if they had the capabilities.
Meanwhile Steinmeier, after talks with acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Tel Aviv Monday, said Germany would stand by Israel, especially in such "difficult times" -- an apparent reference to both the nuclear row with Iran and the democratic victory of the radical Hamas party in Palestinian elections last month.
Steinmeier said Berlin would not speak with Hamas until it accepted Israel's right to exist. "Israel knows that it can depend on us," he said.
Last modified February 15, 2006