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Germany

Bush, Schröder Say Past is Past

During bilateral talks in Mainz, Schröder said Germany's disputes with the United States over Iraq were in the past. The two leaders found common ground even on divisive issues such as Iran and global warming.

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Will Bush point the way to a new future for German-US relations?

A deep rift developed between German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and US President George W. Bush over the US-led invasion of Iraq. But following his visit with the US president in the city of Mainz, the German leader said both countries now had a common interest in stabilizing the country.

"Nobody wants to conceal that we had different opinions about these things in the past, but that is the past," Schröder said. "Now our joint interest is that we come to a stable, democratic Iraq."

Schröder said Germany would continue to train Iraqi police and army personnel in the United Arab Emirates and also offered help in rebuilding Iraq's institutions if the new Iraqi administration requests it.

"We'd be very happy to make expertise available when it is about the rebuilding of democratic institutions, whether it be drafting a constitution or the establishment of ministries," he added.

Still no German troops

For his part, Bush noted that Germany had agreed to assist Iraq through debt relief and other measures and was careful to play down Berlin's continuing refusal to send troops or train Iraq security forces inside Iraq itself.

"I fully understand the limitations" Germany faces, Bush said, adding that Berlin's contributions were "not limited, they're important."

The US president also flattered Germans by saying that good relations with their country was vital for America.

"We can't have good, strong relations with Europe if we don't have good relations with Germany," Bush said. "This great nation is the heart of Europe."

Protests, security measures

Bush's first visit to Germany since the US invaded Iraq in 2003 was marked by large protests and extremely tight security.

Following his meeting with Bush, Schröder said he was "delighted" that the US backs EU efforts to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment program.

Treffen in Mainz: US-Präsident George W. Bush (r) und Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder

US President George W. Bush, right, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, left, are seen upon Bushs arrival at the Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt

"There is common ground between the Europeans and the Americans in the objectives," Schröder said at a joint press conference.

Germany, France and Britain are currently negotiating with Iran, offering a package of political and economic benefits in return for it abandoning the enrichment program.

Bush said Europe's diplomatic efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program were only a beginning, and he warned that comparisons with Iraq were wrong.

"Iran is not Iraq. We just started the diplomatic efforts and I want to thank our friends for taking the lead. We will work with them to convince the mullahs that they need to give up their nuclear ambitions," Bush said.

Bush has repeatedly said the US launched its war on Iraq only after then-leader Saddam Hussein had failed to comply with a series of UN resolutions over a number of years.

Mindful of past divisions in the leadup to the Iraq war, Bush said it was vital for Iran to hear the world speak with one voice.

Agreement on Syria

Schröder also welcomed Bush's "strong commitment" to the Middle East in general.

"I find that the path being followed by Mr. Bush for the Middle East process is the best for peace," Schröder said. "Hopes have risen for a solution thanks to the efforts of the United States."

The German leader gave his backing to Bush's decision to wait and see how Syria responds to international demands to withdraw its troops and secret services from Lebanon before seeking any new UN sanctions.

Syria maintains 14,000 troops in Lebanon but has been facing growing pressure to pull out of the country following the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri on Feb. 14. The US is seeking a full and transparent investigation of the bombing that killed Hariri and 17 others in Beirut.

Washington has stopped short of directly blaming Syria for the attack, but last week recalled its ambassador to Damascus as a strong signal of its displeasure of Syria's involvement in Lebanon.

Action on climate change

More evidence of just how intent Bush and Schröder are on mending fences is a new agreement between the two nations to improve energy efficiency and cut emission of the greenhouses gases blamed for global warming.

George Bush besucht Mainz Gerhard Schröder Gutenberg Museum

George Bush, Laura Bush, Gerhard Schroeder and his wife Doris Schroeder-Koepf look at historic printed bibles during their visit to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz

Bush's refusal to back the Kyoto Treaty on climate protection is one of the issues frequently cited as driving a wedge between Germany and the US.

However, observers said the climate deal sealed in Mainz is more symbolic than anything else, as it didn't detail what action is to be taken, nor set any targets.

During his day in Mainz, Bush also visited the Gutenberg Museum (photo), met with a group of young German business leaders, and adressed US troops.

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