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Germany's Lafontaine wants to mediate in Iran row

Written by: Staff
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BERLIN, Apr 5 (Reuters) Oskar Lafontaine, a leader of a far-left opposition party in the German parliament, plans to travel to Tehran in an attempt to mediate in Iran's nuclear dispute with the West, his party said today.

''He does plan to go to Iran,'' said Hendrik Thalheim, spokesman for the Left party. ''We want to try to prevent a war and want to contribute to the effort.'' Thalheim said Lafontaine did not have a specific date for his trip but said the veteran left-winger would urge Iranian leaders to recognise the right of Israel to exist and to comply with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be ''wiped off the map'' and questioned whether six million Jews were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

But Thalheim said Lafontaine and the Left party believed Iran had a right to enrich uranium under the NPT.

''The question is do we want to apply the NPT fairly to all countries,'' Thalheim said.

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder made Lafontaine, chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD) at the time, his finance minister after the 1998 general election.

After falling out with Schroeder, Lafontaine resigned as party chairman and finance minister. He later left the SPD to join a new far-left party. Lafontaine is now the co-leader of the Left Party's parliamentary group, which has 53 seats in the 614-seat parliament.

Germany, France and Britain broke off 2-1/2 years of talks with Tehran earlier this year after Iran announced it would restart its mothballed uranium enrichment programme and then began enriching uranium on a small scale.

A German government official said that Berlin would do nothing to stop Lafontaine, though he doubted Lafontaine would be able to broker a deal with Iran, let alone one acceptable to the European Union or Washington.

The so-called ''EU3'' have conditioned a resumption of talks with Iran on the full re-suspension of enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for atomic power plants or weapons.

Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to arrive in Berlin later on Wednesday for talks with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Iran and other issues.

Tomorrow Lavrov will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung.

REUTERS CH BS1834

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