- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

GENEVA — German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is again using the fear of U.S. military action — this time a unilateral strike on Iran — to boost his chances in the Sept. 18 parliamentary election.

His slogan “let’s take the military option off the table” appears to have caused concern among the German voters where until recently opinion polls favored Angela Merkel and her conservative Christian Democrats.

Trying to prevent an erosion of Mrs. Merkel’s support, conservative analysts accused Mr. Schroeder of harming Germany’s relations with Washington by provocative and anti-American slogans. He used similar tactics during his victorious 2002 campaign when he repeatedly railed about U.S. war preparations against Iraq.

Mr. Schroeder’s remark was an apparent response to President Bush’s reported comment in an interview with Israeli television recently. As far as Iran is concerned, Mr. Bush said, “all options are on the table. The use of force is the last option for any president.”

A number of newspapers in France, Germany and Italy interpreted the statement as preparing public opinion for the possibility of conflict in view of Iran’s systematic rejection of Western overtures.

The conservatives warned that Mr. Schroeder’s stand also risked undermining the European Union’s search for a diplomatic solution in the face of Iran’s rejection of international calls to abandon its search for nuclear weapons.

Mr. Schroeder “is accepting the fact that the danger of Iran obtaining an atomic bomb is growing … and he is creating the disastrous impressions that the international community is divided,” said Wolfgang Schauble, the foreign policy spokesman of the conservative opposition.

On the domestic front, the German campaign has stumbled over such issues as the persistence of unemployment, the paralysis of economic growth, Mrs. Merkel’s past in formerly communist East Germany and her lack of political experience.

Critical comments were raised even within Mrs. Merkel’s own grouping in the predominantly Roman Catholic southwestern part of Germany.

Particularly vocal has been Edmund Stoiber, head of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian ally of the Christian Democrats, who said “the east must not decide the fate of Germany.”

Meanwhile Germany’s highest court announced yesterday it has come to a decision on whether to allow an early federal election on Sept. 18 and will announce its verdict tomorrow, Reuters news agency reported.

The Federal Constitutional Court must decide whether President Horst Koehler was right to dissolve parliament in July, as requested by Mr. Schroeder after his Social Democrats lost a vital regional election in late May.

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