While Iran seems resolved to stick to its uranium enrichment program despite international protests, lawmakers on both sides of Germany's governing coalition are increasingly divided over how to react.
Angela Merkel has not ruled out a military option against Iran
The German government wants a diplomatic solution to the dispute with Iran over its nuclear program. According to spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm, it is united in this aim.
"I don't see any dissent within the government," Wilhelm said.
But lawmakers from the Christian Union parties and the Social Democrats which make up the coalition government have publicly expressed contrary opinions on how to react to Iran.
Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler, a Social Democrat (SPD), criticized the debate about a possible military strike.
"The most stupid thing we could do now is to fight about how we're going to react," Erler told German television ZDF on Tuesday. He said there was "a very wide consensus" that the international community had to work together on this issue.
Merkel hopes for a diplomatic solution
The Iranian government has announced it is backing out of a round of scheduled negotiations later this week with Russia over its nuclear program.
At the international security conference in Munich earlier this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the international community to step up pressure on the government in Tehran to finally give up its unilateral uranium enrichment activities.
Merkel, a member of the Christian Democrats (CDU), said at the conference that Germany was hoping for a diplomatic solution to the current conflict surrounding Iran. But she added that a military option must not be ruled out in the event that everything else failed to bring Tehran's leadership to its senses.
Criticism from the left
Several Social Democratic leaders have responded by criticizing Merkel for mentioning the possibility of a military option at all. They claim that any mention of such measures may pour even more oil into the fire, which already seems to be burning the last remaining bridges between the west and the Muslim world.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier is currently visiting the Middle East
Prior to his departure for the Middle East, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier put the chancellor's remarks into perspective.
"Just like me, Angela Merkel is interested in a diplomatic solution to the conflict," Steinmeier said. "We're both willing to help make such a solution possible. In my view, it doesn't make sense to answer questions related to scenarios, which are simply not on the agenda."
Germany wants to act as a "peace-loving power"
One of Merkel's critics, SPD Secretary General Hubertus Heil, applauded Steinmeier for clearly backing a peaceful settlement of the Iran conflict. Heil said there was no alternative to a diplomatic solution.
"Steinmeier has made it clear that we don't want a militarization of thinking in our country," Heil said. He said this approach was a continuation of the policy developed under former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
"We are prepared to assume responsibility," Heil said. "But in doing so, we want to appear and act as a peace-loving power with respect for other nations."
But Friedbert Pflüger (CDU), a state secretary in the defense ministry, said the SPD should not attempt to use a foreign policy issue to score points domestically in the run-up to state elections. The SPD had also marketed itself as a "peace-loving" party prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq.
"Rehashing this strategy will fail," Pflüger told the newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.
Military option should remain on the table
CDU lawmaker Eckhard von Klaeden, his party's foreign affairs spokesman, criticized those who believe that anything could be gained by not talking about a military option at all.
"If we say upfront that we categorically rule out any military option, we deliberately weaken our position at the negotiating table," von Klaeden said. "If we did so, the West's position would be pretty predicable and hardly be able to really exert pressure on Tehran."
Von Klaeden said his stance had nothing to do with war-mongering. He also dismissed any attempt to liken the current situation with the one that led to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Some Social Democrats agree with von Klaeden, though. SPD defense expert Rainer Arnold, a dissident in his party on this issue, said that it made no sense at present to go into detail about all possible moves against Tehran.
But, Arnold said, it would likewise be foolish to say right now what one would never be prepared to do.