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Threats over Iran nuclear activity criticized

Alexander G. Higgins Associated Press

DAVOS, Switzerland – The threat of military action to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions became a central theme Friday at the World Economic Forum, with Germany’s leader warning that the Middle East cannot abide another war, a clear message to the United States that is being increasingly echoed throughout Europe.

“This is a hotbed region already,” German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, one of the leading opponents of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, said to a round of applause. “The last thing we need is another military conflict.”

Germany has been working with Britain and France to persuade Iran to forgo nuclear activities that could be used to make atomic weapons. Iran maintains it is only enriching uranium enough to create nuclear power – not weapons.

The United States has demanded that Iran be hauled before the U.N. Security Council, and has refused to rule out military strikes against the country unless it stops enriching uranium.

“We are most decidedly in favor of the fact that Iran completely give up use of military power forever, if at all possible, but this is a target that has to be achieved through diplomatic means,” Schroeder said.

U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd said that military use should be the last resort.

“The military option – while I wouldn’t take it off the table – has to be far from the mind of the administration’s thinking,” he said.

Another preoccupation of the meeting was Iraq’s elections, scheduled for Sunday.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said he hoped the vote would improve security.

“I have no doubt that if the elections in Iraq are successful, they will have a lasting impact,” Abdullah said.

Much of this year’s forum has focused on reducing poverty – a theme addressed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac at the opening of the five-day conference Wednesday.

Schroeder said he supported Chirac’s idea of raising development aid by taxing international financial transactions.

“We should look at financial flows in which there’s nothing but hot air and speculation,” Schroeder said. “We should consider a tax on purely speculative financial transactions.”

He also said oil-producing countries that have reaped windfall profits because of high oil prices should use some of that money to offset the burden the prices place on poor countries.

“Those who produce oil should show responsibility for the lack of development in poor countries because of these prices,” he said.

Also, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko appealed to the West to help his country win European Union membership and enable Ukraine to end post-Soviet stagnation and realign itself with the West.

“My country has long been a wise, strong but sleeping elephant,” said Yushchenko. “It is waking today.”

Actress Sharon Stone interrupted a discussion of funding the war on poverty by pledging $10,000 to buy mosquito nets that would help Africa battle malaria. She challenged the audience to join her, and in a few minutes had accumulated promises of $1 million.

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