Aides to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and rival Angela Merkel can't agree on their competing leadership claims as the pair prepared for a second round of talks on forming a new German government.
Wednesday's exploratory talks, for which the two leaders are being joined by ministers and experts, were expected to focus more on policy than on personalities.
Schroeder's Social Democrats and Merkel's Christian Democrats have yet to commit themselves to formal talks on forming a so-called "grand coalition." Merkel insists that her rivals must first accept that, as the head of the stronger group in parliament, she should be chancellor.
"There will be no coalition talks unless it is clear beforehand that Mrs. Merkel will be chancellor," the Christian Democrats' general secretary, Volker Kauder, told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung. But, he insisted, "there is no ultimatum."
His opposite number in the Social Democrats, Klaus Uwe Benneter, stuck to his party's oft-repeated insistence that "we want to govern with Gerhard Schroeder at the helm and push through as much as possible of our election manifesto."
"Our issues are fused with our leadership figure, Gerhard Schroeder - they cannot be divided," he said.
Both sides have said another round of preparatory talks is likely next week. Before that, voters in the eastern city of Dresden turn out Sunday in the last balloting of the election - a vote that was put off because of a candidate's death.
Pollsters say the delayed vote will not alter the balance of power that emerged from the inconclusive Sept. 18 election, with Merkel's Christian Democrats set to retain a narrow parliamentary lead over Schroeder's party.
During the election campaign, Schroeder and Merkel battled over the extent to which the sluggish German economy should be reformed, the AP reforms.