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Merkel Travels to Texas

Ole Tangen Jr.November 9, 2007

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President George W. Bush are both positive about this weekend's meeting at the president's Texas ranch, but neither side is predicting any policy breakthroughs.

Bush and Merkel
Bush and Merkel have a cordial relationshipImage: AP

The nuclear standoff in Iran is expected to remain at the top of the agenda during the informal two-day visit that begins Friday, Nov. 9. Both leaders have said they want to keep nuclear weapons out of Tehran's hands.

"The international community must pursue its goal of preventing Iran from having nuclear arms with firmness," Merkel said in an interview this week with the daily Berliner Zeitung. "This is a process we should take step by step."

Bush has also pointed to Germany to take on an important role in nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

Differences over dealing with Iran

Iranian President Ahmadinejad
Both leaders want to keep nuclear weapons out of IranImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"We definitely need Germany's help on issues like Iran," President Bush told German broadcaster RTL this week. "Germany is a crucial country in terms of building coalitions to deal with the threats we face."

But while Merkel has stated a preference for giving the United Nations a lead role in dealing with Iran, Bush has ratcheted up his rhetoric by saying that allowing Tehran nuclear weapons could end in World War III and that action needed to be taken quickly.

Disagreement over what step to take next will make reaching a US-German position difficult, according to Thomas Greven, a senior research fellow at the German Institute for International Relations in Berlin.

"I think that Bush will also be testing the waters for potential military action against Iran," he said. "There is in some sense a unity in Europe and in Germany for a tough diplomatic posture against Iran but that does not extend to military action."

A close relationship

President Bush and French president Sarkozy
Bush also met with French President Sarkozy this weekImage: AP

But the close relationship Bush and Merkel have had since the chancellor's first visit to the White House in 2006 as well as the informal location of the upcoming meeting on the president's private ranch could be beneficial to the talks' outcome, according to Constanze Stelzenmüller, director of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin.

"It is quite true to say that Angela Merkel has brought the US and Germany back to a calm professional relationship," she said. "And for this president, personal relationships are very important."

Merkel is also said to have a strong regard for the president and the American people.

"I think the affection and regard that Merkel has for the US is genuine," Stelzenmüller said.

For his part, Bush has repeatedly expressed admiration for the German leader who grew up in communist East Germany and went on to lead one of the world's biggest democracies and Europe's largest economy.

The Texas White House

The wild boar roasted at a meeting between Bush and Merkel in Germany in 2006
Merkel also hosted Bush to an informal German barbecue in 2006Image: AP

The invitation to the ranch in Crawford, Texas -- where Bush famously said he saw into the "soul" of Russian President Vladimir Putin -- is a signal that Bush values good relations with Germany, Greven said.

But he added that there was little hope of closing the gaps in the differences of opinion on Germany's desire for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, which Bush does not support, and Merkel's refusal to send German troops to Afghanistan's war-torn south.

"Inviting Merkel to the ranch is a big step for Germany and the US," Greven said. "But I cannot picture Bush and Merkel riding into the sunset together in harmony."