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Germany's loyalty to Israel has always been untarnished, and this is certainly true with respect to the question of the Iranian nuclear program, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Haaretz yesterday in an exclusive interview.

For the full interview see Week's End supplement

With regard to Iranian's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Steinmeier said: "The hateful statements of the [Iranian] president against the State of Israel and his denial of the Holocaust are completely unacceptable and revolting."

Steinmeier went on to cast doubt on Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is designed for peaceful purposes only. He promised that his government "is taking this conflict very seriously," adding that "it has the potential of disrupting what little regional stability is left in the Middle East."

The minister adds that if it becomes apparent during the coming month that the International Atomic Energy Agency is unsuccessful in clarifying the nature and scope of the Iranian nuclear program, the UN Security Council will formulate another declaration - its third - in which sanctions against Iran will be broadened.

However, unlike his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner, Steinmeier is not willing to talk about a military option. "It is my firm belief that we must solve it peacefully," he says. "Everything else would mean playing with fire."

Commenting on the upcoming Annapolis peace conference, Steinmeier says he sees it as an important key to a better future. He refuses to join those who predict that the conference will fail and fear that violence will ensue in its wake. On the contrary, he says the decision to convene the gathering has already generated the dynamics necessary for the positive progress seen in recent months.

"For the first time in seven years, there is a realistic perspective for negotiations," he said.