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Germany

Middle East to Dominate Merkel's Agenda During US Visit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel headed to Washington on Wednesday for talks with President George W. Bush focused on the international response to the Iranian nuclear crisis.

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Merkel has a solid relationship with Bush, both seen here during her last visit in November

The three-day visit, Merkel's second since coming to office in November, followed confirmation last week that Iran had defied a UN deadline to halt uranium enrichment, heightening fears in the West that the Islamic republic was trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Germany has held months of negotiations with Tehran on behalf of the European Union alongside France and Britain.

Although not a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Berlin has also taken part in a series of meetings with the Council's five permanent members designed to work out a common policy towards Iran, the latest taking place in Paris on Tuesday.

Germa n y i n sists o n diplomatic solutio n

Jahresrückblick März 2006 Iran Atom

Germany and the UN Security Council discussed how to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons

"The German government is determined to exhaust all diplomatic methods at its disposal to avoid military action," Jens van Scherpenberg of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin told DW-WORLD.DE.

The possibility of sanctions against Iran is hanging in the air, but German government sources said ahead of Merkel's departure that Germany did not expect any dramatic moves yet.

Merkel will be able to take advantage of the different opinions among US leaders to make a case for a diplomatic solution, van Scherpenberg added.

The chancellor is expected to aim to ensure that the international community continued to pull together to create a united stance when it comes to Teheran.

Steinmeier appelliert an Entführer im Irak Porträt

Steinmeier couldn't get Washington to commit to negotiating with Teheran

"It is important to make Iran aware that it is getting itself into a position of isolation," an official told the AFP news agency.

When German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Washington last month he urged the US administration to begin direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for purely peaceful purposes.

Washington has, however, repeatedly rebuffed the proposal, and there was no indication that Merkel would repeat the request to Bush in person.

Hamas fu n di n g also o n the age n da

Berlin and Washington see eye-to-eye on the issue of the Hamas-led Palestinian government, with both condemning its refusal to recognize the existence of Israel.

Germany was a major player in pushing through a European Union boycott of the Hamas-led government, including a freeze on direct funding to the Palestinian authorities worth 500 million euros ($630 million) a year.

Das falsche Bewußtsein

Germany wants to isolate Hamas until it recognizes Israel

A German official said Merkel would tell Bush that the criteria for lifting Hamas out of its isolation -- including recognizing Israel and honoring the commitments of earlier Palestinian governments -- must be adhered to.

Israeli Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert last week urged Germany to wield its influence with its European partners to maintain the boycott of Hamas.

Merkel's trip to the US will also include speeches on Thursday to an economic symposium in New York organized by the American Council on Germany and US and German business groups.

She will then return to Washington to give a speech for the 100th birthday celebrations for the American Jewish Committee on Thursday.

Founded by American Jews with mainly German roots, the AJC works to safeguard Jews and Jewish life worldwide.

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