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Bush and Merkel have moved closer together over the past monthsImage: AP

Merkel, Bush Stand United On Middle East, Iran

DW staff / AFP (sp)
July 13, 2006

US President Bush and German Chancellor Merkel on Thursday called for restraint in the Middle East, UN action on Iran, and urged Russia to stick with democratic reforms.


Addressing a crowd of hand-picked locals on Stralsund's market square, George W. Bush said Thursday that a coordinated foreign policy between his country and Germany could contribute a lot towards making the world a safer place.

He praised the current state of US-German relations, which have improved considerably since Chancellor Angela Merkel took office in the autumn of last year.

US-Präsident George W. Bush und Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel
A kiss for Angela -- Merkel was warmly greeted by BushImage: AP

"I bring a message from the American people: We're honored to call the German people friends and allies," Bush said earlier in the day. "America and Germany stand side by side."

"We share common values and common interests. We want to work together to keep the peace. We want to work together to promote freedom. There's so much we can do, working together," he said.

The visit was marked by good spirits and humor as Bush accepted a small ceremonial barrel of herring and jokingly mimed eating one of the fish.

"This is a very good opportunity, indeed, to say a word of thanks," a beaming Merkel said. "We owe you a big debt of gratitude for being able to finally live within one country in peace and freedom; one country -- Germany."

Leaders urge restraint in Mideast

At a joint public appearance later, the two leaders accused the Lebanon-based Hezbollah movement of sparking some of the worst Middle East violence in a decade by abducting Israeli soldiers and firing rockets at targets inside Israel.

Bush pointedly defended Israel's "right to defend herself" but urged restraint, saying that "whatever Israel does should not weaken" the fragile government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

Israel Militäroffensive gegen Libanon
Smoke rises from an Israeli air raid that targeted a bridge in the Zahrani region in LebanonImage: AP

"My biggest concern is whether or not actions taken will weaken the Siniora government," he said. "Democracy in Lebanon is an important part of laying a foundation for peace in that region."

"The attacks did not start from the Israeli side, but from Hezbollah's side," said Merkel. "We call on the powers in the region to seek to bring about a de-escalation of the situation."

Losing patience with Iran?

The two leaders jointly warned Iran that they were taking the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council and urged the Islamic republic to freeze sensitive atomic activities as a precondition for talks.

"I truly think they're trying to wait us out. They think it's a matter of time before people lose their nerve," Bush said. "I think they're going to be disappointed that this coalition is a lot firmer than they think."

Iran Atomstreit Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Porträt Hintergrund Ajatollah Chamenei
Iranian President Ahmadinejad in front of a picture of Iran's Ayatollah Ali KhameneiImage: AP

Referring to a decision on Wednesday by the five UN veto powers and Germany to pass the Iranian nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council, Merkel said time was running out.

"We have waited patiently and we have had no workable response from Iran. We have to see what the next steps will be if Iran continues to remain silent," said Merkel. "This may include sanctions."

No lectures for Putin

The meeting came a day before Bush was to head to Russia for weekend talks with President Vladimir Putin and the July 15-17 Group of Eight summit of industrialized nations.

Bush said he would not lecture Putin publicly when they meet on what Washington says is Moscow's backsliding from democracy, but stressed that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) must be allowed to operate in Russia "without intimidation" from the Kremlin.

"Nobody really likes to be lectured a lot. And, therefore, if you want to be an effective person, what you don't do is scold the person publicly all the time," the US president said. "I'll be firm in my beliefs in certain democratic institutions, I'll be firm in my belief about the need for there to be an active civil society, and NGOs should be allowed to function in Russia

without intimidation," he said.

Wladimir Putin chattet im Internet vor G8 Gipfel in Sankt Petersburg
Bush has no plans to lecture Putin when he meets him in RussiaImage: AP

Merkel urged Russia to ratify the International Energy Charter giving greater access to pipelines and energy supplies, which she said would provide "greater security" to world energy supplies.

"We have different ideas about how a pluralist society, a democratic society ought to work; that there ought to be a strong opposition is certainly one of the realities of life," said Merkel.

Ein Wildschwein für Bush
Bush was looking forward to tucking into this wild boar later in the eveningImage: AP

The press conference was not all serious: in response to one reporter's questions about Middle East violence and Iran's nuclear program, Bush joked about plans for an evening barbecue with Merkel at a neighboring village which was to feature a wild boar caught in the region's woods.

"I thought you were going to ask me about the pig," he said.

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