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Iran's Nuclear Program Focus Of European Leaders'

Iran's Nuclear Program Focus of European Leaders' U.S. Visits

Growing international concern over Iran's controversial nuclear program is likely to dominate the agenda as German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the Bush family ranch in Crawford, Texas, November 9, as it did for French President Nicolas Sarkozy's first official visit to Washington earlier in the week.

"It is unacceptable that Iran should have at any point a nuclear weapon," Sarkozy told reporters in a November 7 joint appearance with President Bush in Mount Vernon , Virginia. "But Iran is entitled to the energy of the future, which is civilian nuclear energy," he added, a point on which Bush agreed.

The Iranian government claims that its nuclear enrichment activities are geared toward developing civil nuclear power plants. But the regime's continued refusal to allow United Nations' nuclear inspectors full access to all facilities lead many, including the United States, to suspect that Tehran secretly is seeking nuclear weapons.

"I firmly believe we can solve this problem diplomatically and will continue to work to do so," Bush told Germany's RTL and N-TV November 6. "That's going to be an important topic with the chancellor."

France and Germany are active diplomatic participants in the "P5 +1," which also includes China, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The group is working together to convince Tehran to suspend its nuclear program and return to the negotiating table.

The United Nations Security Council already has approved two rounds of economic sanctions against the Iranian government, and currently is considering a third, to add pressure for a diplomatic solution to the ongoing nuclear standoff.

"Iran deserves a better fate than isolation," Sarkozy said.

The United States announced new sanctions of its own October 25, blocking U.S. businesses and financial institutions from doing business with Iranian-owned banks and enterprises linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Bush has discussed Washington's latest move with Sarkozy and Merkel and urged them to consider imposing additional sanctions as well.

All the Iranians need to do, Bush said November 6 in the interview with the German broadcast outlets, "is suspend their enrichment program and then there will be a dialogue and a way forward." The choice is for the Iranian government to make, he added.


Merkel's Crawford visit, her sixth official trip to the United States, follows Bush's visit to the chancellor's home district in northern Germany in June while attending the G8 Summit of industrialized nations, hosted by the Merkel in Heiligendamm.

"It's not very formal," Bush said in the November 6 interview about talks at the ranch, "but it will be conducive to a conversation amongst friends."

Observers note that Merkel's visit, like Sarkozy's will be a marked change from Bush's meetings with their predecessors, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder and France's Jacques Chirac, who were critics of military operations in Iraq.

"I never really felt that a disagreement over Iraq should yield a rupture in relations, I mean, I fully understand why people disagree with my decision," Bush told a reporter from France's TF 1 November 7.

"I value the relationship a lot," Bush later added, "And the United States and France have had a long history."

In democracies, Bush said November 6 at a White House state dinner to welcome Sarkozy, differences among individual leaders in policies and in personalities never should mask the enduring bond of shared values.

"French and American troops are helping to defend a young democracy in Afghanistan. Our two nations support the democratic government of Lebanon," Bush said. "We agree that reconciliation and democracy in Iraq are vital to the future of the Middle East. And our two nations condemn violations of human rights in Darfur [Sudan], in Burma and around the world."

"I wish to reconquer the heart of America," Sarkozy replied in his toast to Bush. "France and the United States are allies, have been allies, and will continue to be allies, and have been so forever."

Other topics on the agenda in talks with French and German leaders, say Bush administration officials, include NATO operations in Afghanistan, the Middle East peace process, human rights abuses in Burma and Darfur, climate change, and the future status of Kosovo.


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