MESEBERG, Germany (AP) – U.S. President George W. Bush met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a villa outside Berlin on Wednesday for talks largely focused on both leaders’ desire to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Bush is eager to resolve the nuclear standoff with Tehran before his presidency ends. In talks with Merkel on Wednesday, and with other European leaders later in the week, Bush will be coaxing them to stand in solidarity against Iran and embrace tougher sanctions if the country does not stop its uranium enrichment program.
Global warming, Afghanistan and relations with Russia also were expected topics at Bush’s meeting with Merkel at Schloss Meseberg, the German government’s main guesthouse.
After a countryside bike ride that seemed to invigorate Bush, he and Merkel had breakfast and then took a camera-ready stroll through the formal, manicured gardens next to the cream-colored country manor house. They were to end their discussions over lunch, squeezing in a news conference in the villa’s cobblestone courtyard.
Bush is close with Merkel, and has hosted her at his Texas ranch. Their relationship hit a bump at a NATO summit in Romania in April when they split over whether to give Georgia and Ukraine a path to membership in the alliance. But U.S.-German ties overall have improved under Merkel.
On Iran, Europeans want to wait on stiffer sanctions until after the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, visits Tehran to present a package of incentives in exchange for stopping its enrichment program. The offer, an updated version of one that Iran ignored a few years ago, was developed by the United States, along with Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China.
Following Bush’s final U.S.-EU summit Tuesday in Kranj, Slovenia, the leaders issued a joint declaration that said the United States and Europe “are ready to supplement those (previous) sanctions with additional measures” if Iran does not halt enrichment. It also said they would “work together … to take steps to ensure Iranian banks cannot abuse the international banking system to support proliferation and terrorism.”
It was unclear whether this second pledge meant Europeans had signed on for the kind of harsh measures the U.S. favors, such as prohibiting business with Iranian banks, or merely represented a repeat of previous calls for closer monitoring of dealings with them.
On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Bush’s era “has come to an end” and he has failed in his goals to attack Iran and stop its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad said pressures and sanctions won’t succeed in forcing Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program. “In the past two-three years, they employed all their might, resorted to propaganda … and sanctions,” he said.
“If the enemy thinks they can break the Iranian nation with pressure, they are wrong. … With God’s help, today we have achieved victory and the enemies cannot do a damned thing.”
Bush’s campaign for stronger sanctions has been bolstered by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Since beginning an investigation last year into allegations of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program, the IAEA has asked in vain for substantive explanations for what seem to be draft plans to refit missiles with nuclear warheads, explosives tests that could be used to develop a nuclear detonator, military and civilian nuclear links and a drawing showing how to mold uranium metal into the shape of warheads.
Iran claims its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity, not bombs, and remains defiant, saying evidence from the U.S. and others purportedly backing the allegations was fabricated.
Aboard Air Force One on Tuesday en route to Germany, national security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters that the president’s strategy was to make sure that all the European partners see eye to eye on the latest offer. At the same time, he said the parties need to agree that if the Iranians reject the offer being presented by Solana, then “we need to turn up the pressure.”
Agreeing to stiffer sanctions, such as taking further steps to squeeze Iran’s financial and business dealings, would be difficult for Merkel.
Under Merkel, Germany has cut back trade with Iran; German exports to Iran shrank to $5 billion in 2007 from $6.8 billion in 2006. Washington wants Germany to do even more, but German businesses don’t want to cut financial ties to Iran.
“German business is not happy,” said Julianne Smith, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “This is going to have political ramifications. She’s only going to go so far.”