Germany's conservatives have criticized Schröder's warnings against using military force against Iran, saying the chancellor's exploiting the issue for electoral gain -- much like the Iraq war during the last campaign.
The conservatives say Schröder is using a tested electoral tactic
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on Saturday vehemently rejected the use of military coercion to contain Iran and its alleged uranium enrichment activities.
"Let's leave military options aside, we have already seen that they don't amount to anything," Schröder said during an electoral meeting in the northern city of Hanover. "I consider the military option to be extremely dangerous. So I can definitely rule out that a government under my leadership would take part," Schröder added in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday.
Schröder and conservative challenger Merkel
The statements may probably have passed by without a murmur in normal circumstances. But given that Germany is in the grip of an election campaign -- with early federal polls likely to take place next month -- the utterance has raised the hackles of the conservative opposition.
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.
"Schröder is acting completely irresponsibly for electoral purposes. He's acting as though the problem were in Washington, rather than Tehran even through he knows that isn't so," Wolfgang Schäuble, senior foreign policy expert of the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) told the daily Die Welt.
An Iranian security official, dressed in protective clothing, walks inside the Uranium Conversion Facility, just outside the city of Isfahan.
Though Tehran has insisted that its nuclear program is meant for civilian purposes, suspicions linger, especially in Washington, that the country is seeking a nuclear bomb. Over the weekend, US President Bush said military force remained a last resort to press Tehran to abandon its nuclear program.
What's also riled the conservatives is the fact that Schröder's categorical statements on Iran contain echoes of a similar tactic deployed by the chancellor during the last election campaign in 2002.
British soldiers in Iraq
Schröder's opposition to military action against Iraq and his refusal to support the US-led Iraq war was largely credited for his unexpected victory at the time. Schröder's anti-war stance and his blatant electioneering when he accused the conservatives of toeing Washington's line led to a serious rift between Berlin and Washington, taking the transatlantic relationship to an all-time low.
The conservatives fear that the chancellor's exploitation of the Iran issue to tap into Germany's deep-seated opposition to US military action in Iraq ahead of the election could once again open up old wounds in the transatlantic relationship which have since been smoothed over.
"Schröder has to stop turning the serious conflict with Iran into an election issue," Friedbert Pflüger, foreign policy expert of the CDU told daily Berliner Zeitung on Monday. "The (chancellor's) statement is a blatant effort to instrumentalize the nuclear row in Iran for domestic purposes," said Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy CDU parliamentary leader.
The view is shared by the opposition Liberal Free Democrats, a likely junior partner in a future coalition with the CDU. "I expect the German chancellor to personally talk with President Bush and not about him at poll campaign meetings," said Guido Westerwelle, leader of the FDP on Monday.
Undermining international solidarity?
The opposition also believes that the chancellor's warnings against using military force in Iran also risks undermining international solidarity for electoral gain.
"The chancellor is creating the fatal impression in Tehran that the world community is not united anymore," Schäuble said. "In doing so, he is accepting the consequence that the danger of an Iranian bomb will grow," he said.
Chancellor Schröder with Müntefering
Schröder's camp however has rejected the conservatives' allegations.
"The chancellor didn't direct the statements at any one, rather he has generally made it clear that we want to be a peace-loving power," said Franz Müntefering, SPD chairman in a radio interview Monday.
He added that the accusation that Schröder was using the Iran conflict for election purposes was a twisted interpretation.