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Germany's Merkel Tells Congress Iran Must Not Acquire Nuclear Bomb

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks before a joint session of the U.S. Congress.
WASHINGTON -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told a joint session of the U.S. Congress that her country can never accept a nuclear-armed Iran.

Speaking on November 3, she said, "zero tolerance needs to be shown when there is a risk of weapons of mass destruction falling, for example, into the hands of Iran and threatening our security."

Merkel said a nuclear weapon "in the hands of an Iranian president who denies the Holocaust, threatens Israel, and denies Israel the right to exist is not acceptable."

That line earned her one of several standing ovations from the packed chamber of lawmakers.

The Obama administration has urged Berlin to support its call for stronger economic sanctions against Iran if the Islamic republic refuses to let the international community impose limits on its nuclear program.

Merkel said Germany recognizes the need to confront Iran directly on this issue, with stiff sanctions if necessary.

Merkel also touched on her country's contribution to the war in Afghanistan, where German NATO forces have been stationed in the relatively peaceful northern part of the country.

She promised that her country will work alongside the United States "every step of the way." But she added, "Our objective must be a strategy, the transfer of responsibility" to Afghans."

Washington has long called for more German forces in Afghanistan, but the war is very unpopular among German voters.

Global Warming

This is Merkel's first visit to the United States since she won a hard-fought reelection in September.

Before her speech, she met at the White House with President Barack Obama, where they discussed their close positions on climate change. Obama said he and Merkel both believe in taking united action on the matter.

"Chancellor Merkel has been an extraordinary leader on the issue of climate change, and the United States, Germany, and countries around the world, I think, are all beginning to recognize why it is so important that we work in common in order to stem the potential catastrophe that could result if continue to see global warming continuing unabated," Obama said.

In her speech, the German leader called for agreement on a multinational treaty on global warming at the international climate change conference next month in Copenhagen. She urged the United States to join Europe to combat global warming.

"We need an agreement on one objective: Global warming must not exceed 2 degrees Celsius," she said. "To achieve this, we need the readiness of all countries to accept internationally binding obligations."

The European Union, including Germany, favors limiting greenhouse gases so that the Earth's average temperature will have risen by no more than 2 degrees over preindustrial levels. To reach that goal, according to UN estimates, rich countries must cut carbon pollution by between 25 and 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.

Many U.S. lawmakers are skeptical of the nature of the problem and reluctant to spend money on it while the economy is still so fragile.

Merkel also spoke about her childhood in the former East Germany, and that she will never forget her country's friendship with the United States. She said she never could have believed that she would ever travel to America, much less address Congress as her nation's chancellor.

She was 3 years old when the last German leader to address members of Congress, Konrad Adenaur, spoke in 1957.

The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall also came up during Merkel's speech, but with a twist: those who argue for a delay on a climate-change treaty, she said, are setting up 21st-century walls that separate "the present from the future."