Bush, Merkel to focus on Iran

U.S. President George W. Bush was enjoying Chancellor Angela Merkel's hospitality at a manor house in the German countryside ahead of talks Wednesday likely to touch anew on prospects of raising pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, reported CNN.

Merkel and her husband, Joachim Sauer, welcomed Bush and first lady Laura Bush on Tuesday evening to the German government's guest house in Meseberg, a small village about 70 kilometers (40 miles) north of Berlin.

The restored 18th-century manor in what was once communist East Germany offers a relaxed setting for the meeting between Bush and Merkel, whom the president invited to his Crawford, Texas, ranch in November.

"I have great expectations for the meeting," Merkel told reporters ahead of Bush's arrival. "We will have a whole lot of things still to discuss."

She did not elaborate, but Iran, the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan and the forthcoming Group of Eight summit were among issues expected to be on the agenda.

In Slovenia on Tuesday, Bush sought to rally European Union leaders behind tougher sanctions against Iran, in an attempt to squeeze its finances and derail its potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

Iran's leaders "can either face isolation, or they can have better relations with all of us," Bush said following a summit with top officials from the EU and Slovenia, which holds the 27-nation bloc's rotating presidency.

Germany has been working along with the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France to develop a package of fresh penalties and incentives aimed at getting Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.

Enrichment can generate both nuclear fuel and the fissile material for the core of nuclear warheads. Iran insists that it has only civilian uses in mind for its nuclear program, but Bush said Iran "can't be trusted with enrichment."

Another likely issue for the two leaders on Wednesday is global warming. Bush has long been at odds with Europe on the issue, particularly over whether any climate strategy should include mandatory reductions of emissions of greenhouse gases.

In Slovenia, Bush said: "I think we can actually get an agreement on global climate change during my presidency," which ends on Jan. 20, 2009.

Bush's visit is his fifth to Germany since he took office in 2001 -- a period during which relations chilled over former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's strident opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, then warmed considerably after Merkel came to power in 2005.

Merkel, a conservative who grew up in East Germany, worked hard to improve ties with Bush, but also won respect at home by publicly criticizing the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

In 2006, she welcomed Bush to her parliamentary constituency on the Baltic Sea coast, sharing a roast wild boar with the president and first lady. Bush returned last year for the German-hosted G-8 summit.

The German government's coordinator for U.S. relations, Karsten Voigt, cautioned against playing down Bush's visit as world attention focuses on who will succeed him next year.

"The American president has such great power in foreign and security policy that, up until his final day in office, he remains capable of decision-making," Voigt told public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk.

Still, even Merkel nodded toward the prospect of change after Bush's successor is elected.

"This is (his) last European tour," she said on Tuesday. "A new time will begin then."

Following his stop in Germany, Bush will continue to Italy, France and Britain.

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