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. Germany will not shut door on Iran: Merkel
ROSTOCK, Germany, Aug 31 (AFP) Aug 31, 2006
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday she would deeply regret a decision by Iran to ignore a UN deadline to stop uranium enrichment but still sought talks with the Islamic republic.

Merkel said on a visit to naval troops in the northern city of Rostock that such a move by the leadership in Tehran would come at the cost to the Iranian people, who are bearing the brunt of severe economic problems.

"We made Iran a very, very good offer," she said, referring to a package of security, trade and technology incentives presented by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany if Iran halts sensitive nuclear work.

But she added that Iran's defiance, the international community still wanted to negotiate.

"We will not slam the door shut," Merkel said.

The international community cannot, however, ignore Tehran's actions and would have to discuss potential consequences, she added.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Thursday that efforts were being made to arrange a meeting between Iran and the Security Council permanent five plus Germany over the nuclear crisis.

In an interview published Thursday, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier accused Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of seeking to become the "leader of the Islamic world" with his nuclear ambitions.

Steinmeier told the daily Bild that Ahmadinejad's behavior was "bizarre" but that the international community nevertheless still sought a negotiated solution to the crisis over Iran's sensitive nuclear work.

"The current president wants to present himself as the leader of the Islamic world -- his bizarre proposal for a television debate with US President Bush shows that once again," he said.

"But his Arab and fellow Muslim neighbors share our concerns and our rejection of the idea of an atomically armed regime in Tehran."

Steinmeier said the international incentives package still stands.

"Our hand remains extended. We want a diplomatic solution."

Steinmeier said Iran would face consequences if the International Atomic Energy Agency determined in a report to the Security Council Thursday that Tehran has failed to comply with an August 31 deadline to suspend enrichment.

"If it decides the UN conditions have not been met, Iran must be prepared for limitations in its international capacity to act. The Security Council must determine what that will look like exactly if Tehran does not relent by then."

But he ruled out a military strike against Iran.

"No one could or should want such a conflict in this sensitive region and Iran must recognize that it will only have advantages if it accepts this offer by the international community and does not continue to isolate itself."

Germany has worked with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- to coax Iran away from sensitive nuclear work.

Insisting that its nuclear program is only for civilian use, Iran has made clear it intends to pursue uranium enrichment it began earlier this year. Enrichment makes fuel for nuclear power reactors but can also produce the raw material for atomic bombs.

Ahmadinejad on Tuesday challenged US President George W. Bush to a live television debate as he shrugged off the threat of UN sanctions.

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