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U.S.: Merkel And Bush Find Common Ground During Talks

  • Andrew Tully --> Merkel and Bush spoke to reporters at the White House (epa) German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President George W. Bush today said that their countries are working together closely to achieve a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear crisis. The two leaders spoke with reporters at the White House in Washington, where they also indicated that relations between Germany and the United States have improved, despite continuing differences.

Washington, 13 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Merkel and Bush said they believe the world should send what Bush called "a common message" to Iran that it cannot ignore the will of the United Nations with impunity.

They agreed that it is time to refer the matter to the UN Security Council, but Bush said it is still too early to say what sanctions might be requested.

"I am not going to prejudge what the United Nations Security Council should do," he said. "But I recognize that it is logical that a country [Iran] which has rejected diplomatic entreaties be sent to the United Nations Security Council."

Bush said Iran would pose "a grave threat to the security of the world" if it had nuclear weapons. Merkel agreed, and added, "We will not be intimidated by a country such as Iran."

Bush also noted that Iran's president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, believes the state of Israel should be destroyed. "It is very important for non-transparent societies [like Iran] not to have the capacity to blackmail free societies," he said.

Tehran Threatens To Shut Out IAEA

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, quoted by state-run television, said today that a confrontation with the Security Council would force it to end its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He said that would end random inspections by the agency. Tehran has voluntarily permitted IAEA inspections for more than two years.

Still, Iran's new representative to the IAEA, Aliasghar Soltaniyeh, said today that Tehran plans to continue its cooperation with the UN agency. But he also complained about what he called the West's restrictive approach to nuclear research:

"It is a pity that the message is given to the whole world, to those scientists of the world, that thinking and doing research would be prohibited. The restrictions -- you should not think, you should not do research -- this is contrary to the United Nations Charter, statues of the IAEA, or international laws or regulations," Soltaniyeh said.

The crisis peaked when Iran announced on 10 January that it was ending its two-year suspension of nuclear research and removed the UN seals at a uranium-enrichment plant. Iran says its merely wants to develop peaceful nuclear energy. Enriched uranium is equally useful in generating energy or making nuclear weapons.

Improved U.S.-German Relations

So far, U.S. and European officials have not said what sanctions they may ask the Security Council to impose. It is also unclear whether there are enough votes to impose sanctions.

Further, sanctions could be blocked with a veto by any of its five permanent members. One, China, generally opposes sanctions on any country. Another, Russia, is helping Iran build a nuclear reactor. But Moscow has expressed irritation at Iran's decision to resume nuclear enrichment.

Relations between Germany and the United States have been strained since Germany, under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, refused to support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

But today, both Merkel and Bush said the two governments could get along even when they disagree.

One point of disagreement continues to be Iraq, Bush said, and another was the prison for foreign combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Merkel had suggested that Bush close the facility, and Bush refused. Yet both said the exchange was cordial.

After the White House session, Merkel had a meeting with members of Congress. On 16 January she flies to Moscow for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Their discussions are also likely to include Iran, as well as the natural-gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

RFE/RL Iran Report

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