WASHINGTON – In an attempt to overcome new differences with Germany (search), the Bush administration is renewing its support for a European-led diplomatic resolution of Iran's nuclear programs and playing down a statement by President Bush that U.S. military action is an option.
At the same time, while casting what Bush said last week as historically routine, the State Department on Monday appeared to be minimizing the president's assurance to Israel (search), which considers Iran (search) the gravest threat to its security.
Bush's statement on Israeli TV on Friday that "all options are on the table" in the confrontation with Iran appeared designed to calm Israel as it prepared to yield Gaza with its Iranian-backed Hamas militia to the Palestinians.
But the president's statement evoked a warning Saturday by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (search) that using military force against Iran would not be "suitable."
Schroeder made the statement in opening his underdog campaign for re-election next month as chancellor against Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel.
The public disagreement between Bush and the German chancellor echoed of differences over the U.S. use of force to depose Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Bush's willingness generally to go it alone in foreign policy during his first term.
Schroeder said Germany's allies in Europe and the United States must maintain a strong position while negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program.
"But take the military options off of the table," Schroeder said. "We have seen that they're not suitable."
The negotiations, spearheaded by Germany, Britain and France, have not succeeded so far. On Sunday, officials in Tehran said Iran would never again suspend conversion of uranium ore, a key ingredient of making nuclear weapons, but was willing to pursue talks with the European Union (search) about its uranium enrichment program.
An Iranian spokesman also ratcheted up the rhetorical battle with Washington, declaring that Iranians have the means to defend themselves should Bush act on his warning that military force could be a final option.
At the State Department on Monday, spokesman Sean McCormack stressed that the punitive course the administration would pursue was to seek U.N. economic and political sanctions against Iran if it did not abide by a commitment to freeze the conversion process or did not cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency to resolve "unanswered questions concerning its nuclear program."
As for Bush's statement, McCormack said it was one that "any president would say" — not taking the option of force off the table.
He stressed, meanwhile, that the United States was supporting the three European nations in their efforts and was working very closely with the German government on the issue of Iran.
"We are working well on this diplomatic approach," McCormack said in an evident effort to convince Tehran there was trans-Atlantic unity on trying to end Iran's nuclear weapons activities.