Peter Conradi and Abraham Rabinovich
February 5, 2005, (The Australian) – GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel compared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to Adolph Hitler as Tehran vowed to resume the enrichment of uranium, which could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Amid growing fears that the Iranians are intent on acquiring an "Islamic bomb", Ms Merkel warned that the world must not repeat the mistakes it made in appeasing the Nazis.
"Looking back to German history in the early 1930s, when National Socialism was on the rise, there were many outside Germany who said, ‘It’s only rhetoric — don’t get excited’," Ms Merkel told an international security conference in Munich.
"There were times when people could have reacted differently and, in my view, Germany is obliged to do something at the early stages.
"We want to — we must — prevent Iran from developing its nuclear program."
Ms Merkel issued a blunt warning to Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map".
"Iran has blatantly crossed the red line," she said.
"I say it as a German chancellor. A president who questions Israel’s right to exist, a president who denies the Holocaust, cannot expect to receive any tolerance from Germany."
The statement came as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, voted overwhelmingly in Vienna to report Iran to the UN Security Council, expressing doubts that the country’s nuclear program "is exclusively for peaceful purposes".
Iran responded by announcing that it would resume "commercial-scale" enrichment of uranium, the fuel for power plants or bombs, which was suspended in 2004.
Mr Ahmadinejad later ordered an end to spot checks by IAEA inspectors from yesterday.
Tehran initially described as "dead" a compromise brokered by the Kremlin under which Russia would enrich uranium for Iran to the purity required for nuclear power but not weapons.
But Iran’s Foreign Ministry said last night that negotiations with Russia would still go ahead this month. "Conditions have changed," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said. "We are facing a new situation."
Israel yesterday applauded the decision by the international community to move against Iran, despite discomfort about the resolution’s indirect reference to Israel’s own alleged nuclear program.
Former foreign minister Silvan Shalom said: "This is a historic decision. Until recent years, the world thought that Iran and terror were Israel’s problem.
"After 9/11, and the terror attacks in London, Madrid and Russia, they understood that it’s the world’s problem."
Israeli officials were taken aback by the approval of a clause in the IAEA document implying dismantlement of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, even though Israel is not specifically named.
"A solution to the Iranian issue," reads the clause, "would contribute to global non-proliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery."
Egypt has tried for years to insert such a clause in IAEA resolutions but has been consistently rebuffed by the US. Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons, even though it has been estimated abroad that it has almost 200 nuclear warheads.
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, described the IAEA vote — carried by 27 to three, with five abstentions — as a "historic mistake" and insisted his country would press on with its nuclear program.
"We don’t want confrontation but we can tolerate some problems for the sake of principles that we are committed to," he said, adding that it was not clear when enrichment would begin.
In an apparent sign of confusion in Tehran, an Iranian news agency that had said Mr. Ahmadinejad had given the order to start immediately withdrew its report last night.
The escalation in the standoff with Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, seemed certain to drive energy prices higher on the markets today. It will also raise fears that Tehran might respond by increasing support for militant Islamic groups in the Middle East, of which it is already a major financial backer.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld backed the German leader’s call for tougher action and accused Iran of being "the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism".
Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, his Iranian counterpart, rejected the charges as "ridiculous".
Discussion of the issue at the Security Council was postponed until next month to give Iran a last chance to climb down. But the vehemence of Tehran’s initial reaction made this look unlikely.
It will now be up to the Security Council to decide what further action to take. It is expected to start by making a so-called "presidential statement" reinforcing the IAEA’s demands.
Diplomats said any tougher action, such as sanctions, were further down the line and would depend on Iran’s behavior.
China, a permanent member of the Security Council, opposes sanctions.
Calls for stronger measures were growing at the weekend, however. At the Munich conference, influential US senator John McCain said the military option could not be ruled out if diplomatic efforts failed to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb.