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Obama, Merkel Speak With 'One Voice' On Iran

  • Andrew Tully

U.S President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a White House news conference.

U.S President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a White House news conference.

WASHINGTON -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama have condemned the Iranian government for cracking down on citizens who have questioned the results of the June 12 presidential election, which President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is said to have won.

The two leaders were speaking at a joint news conference on June 26.

"Today we speak with one voice," Obama said. "The rights of the Iranian people to assemble, to speak freely, to have their voices heard -- those are universal aspirations. And their bravery in the face of brutality is a testament to their enduring pursuit of justice. The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous. And despite the government's efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it, and we condemn it."

Merkel, speaking in German, seconded Obama's statement, adding, "We will not forget this."

No Apologies

Obama said he and Merkel want Iran to uphold what he called "international principles" of permitting peaceful dissent, and he ridiculed the idea that he should apologize to Ahmadinejad for criticizing the crackdown.

On June 25, Ahmadinejad was quoted on Iranian television as urging Obama to "show [his] repentance" for promising change during his campaign for the presidency but then, in the Iranian leader's view, taking the same approach of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

On June 26 Obama said, "I don't take Mr. Ahmadinejad's statements seriously about apologies, particularly given the fact that the United States has gone out of its way not to interfere with the election process in Iran. And I'm really not concerned about Mr. Ahmadinejad apologizing to me. I would suggest that Mr. Ahmadinejad think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people."

The U.S. leader suggested that Ahmadinejad turn his attention to the families of demonstrators who have been "beaten or shot or detained."

Merkel said her government would make an effort to identify the victims of Iran's crackdown, and the treatment they've faced. She said, "Iran cannot count on the world turning a blind eye."

Russian Relations

The German leader also brought up Iran's suspected effort to develop a nuclear weapon, which many Western governments believe they are trying to do. Iran insists it is developing peaceful, civil nuclear energy.

Obama repeated his belief that the international community has to work to prevent Iran from developing a bomb, and said the matter would continue to be a priority for the P-5 Plus One group, made up of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.

"You're going to continue to see some multilateral discussions with Iran," he said. "There is a structure that exists -- the P-5 Plus One talks that include Russia and China -- there are going to be discussions that continue on the international stage around Iran's nuclear program."

Both Obama and Merkel agreed that Russia and China could play a key role in resolving the problem. The German chancellor said relations with Russia are "very important" both for Germany and the European Union, as they should be for the United States as well, especially in dealing with Iran.

Obama agreed. "Chancellor Merkel and I reaffirmed our commitment to a more substantive relationship with Russia, working with the Russian government on issues where we agree, and honestly confronting those areas where we disagree," he said.

Iraqi Violence

Obama said he approves of the overall European agreement to take some of the prisoners from the U.S. Naval detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He said Germany hasn't made a commitment to taking a specific number, but Merkel said her country wouldn't evade its duty, and that she expects the matter will be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

Obama also was asked whether he had second thoughts about withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq's cities by the end of the month, under an agreement between Baghdad and Washington. At least 250 people have been killed in a wave of suicide bombings in the run-up to the withdrawals.

The president acknowledged that violence in Iraq won't end on a schedule, and that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will have to do more then merely strengthen security forces.

"I think the Maliki government is not only going to have to continue to strengthen its security forces, but it's also going to have to engage in the kind of political give-and-take leading up to the national elections that we've been talking about for quite some time," he said, adding, "And I haven't seen as much political progress in Iraq -- negotiations between the Sunni, and the Shi'a, and the Kurds -- as I would like to see."