Schröder raps Bush on Iran military threat


GERMANY: Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has kicked off his re-election campaign with a dose of deja vu, warning the US against military action in Iran.

Three years ago Mr Schröder boosted his re-election chances by warning against "military misadventures" in Iraq. Now, days after US president George Bush warned that "all options are on the table" for dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions, Mr Schröder reheated his anti-war rhetoric.

"Take the military option from the table. We know from experience that it's for the birds," he bellowed to a crowd in his hometown of Hanover, on the same spot where, in 2002, he announced that Germany was staying out of the Iraq war.

Mr Schröder said that no one was interested in letting Iran become a nuclear power, but that the ongoing dispute must be resolved by developing a "strong negotiating position" through peaceful means and not through military aggression.

"For that reason I can definitely rule out that a government under my leadership would participate in that," said the German leader.

The foreign policy expert of the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU), Friedbert Pflüger, attacked Mr Schröder's remarks as electioneering.

"We are united on this question: the CDU supports the government and the EU in the search for a diplomatic solution. A realistic military option is not in sight for us," he told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

With five weeks to polling day, Mr Schröder used his campaign kick-off speech to play the Iran card and attack as "unworthy of leadership" his CDU rivals, currently 20 points ahead of his Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the opinion polls.

Election analysts attribute Mr Schröder's last-minute 2002 election win of a few thousand votes to his anti-war stance and his quick intervention after flash floods in eastern Germany.

Foreign minister Joschka Fischer remarked this week: "We don't need the floods, we have [ CDU leader] Angela Merkel."

Dr Merkel's honeymoon as CDU challenger to Mr Schröder has come to an abrupt end. Now she finds her party centre stage in a damaging political sideshow after Bavarian premier Edmund Stoiber attacked "frustrated east German" voters.

He said it was inconceivable that a new left-wing alliance of reformed communists and left-wing Social Democrats were more popular in eastern states than the CDU. He pointed out that Oskar Lafontaine, the former SPD leader and now a leader of the alliance, was opposed to German unification in 1990.

"You're celebrating Lafontaine like a hero. Have you gone crazy? Only the dumbest calves chose their butcher themselves," he said in a speech to eastern voters.

Earlier he remarked: "It's a pity people in other parts of the country are not as clever as in Bavaria" - where his CDU sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has governed continuously since 1962.

The remarks have provoked uproar in the east and made life difficult for Dr Merkel, herself an easterner, though she has declined to criticise Mr Stoiber directly.

"I have made clear that only east and west together can move forward.

"Everything that allows false differences, whether intended or not, are counterproductive," she said in a weekend interview.

But Mr Stoiber has turned into a loose cannon for Dr Merkel, refusing to apologise for his remarks and blaming easterners for his failure to unseat Mr Schröder in 2002.

"The election three years ago that I lost with 6,000 votes was lost in the new federal states," he said.

"If there still was the old federal republic - and thank God for unification -then Schröder would have been voted out and things would certainly have been going better for Germany."

Mr Stoiber's remarks have been attacked as "irresponsible and unpatriotic" by SPD politicians thrilled to have the spotlight of scandal on their political opponents.

But the CDU state premier of Lower Saxony, Christian Wulff, added his criticism over the weekend.

"That some people don't see unity as a gift hurts me," he said, adding that he would expect "the CSU to show the same loyalty that Angela Merkel showed them in 2002" when she stood aside to let Mr Stoiber run.

But Mr Stoiber shot right back at Mr Wulff and his party critics yesterday, saying the CDU/CSU general election campaign was "not being fought hard enough" and warned that party heads were "acting as if we already governed".