Bush and Merkel call for end to conflict in mideast

13th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

13 July 2006, STRALSUND, GERMANY - The United States and Germany called Thursday for concerted efforts to bring to an end the escalating conflict in the Middle East and urged Iran to respond to proposals aimed at getting it to halt uranium enrichment.

13 July 2006

STRALSUND, GERMANY - The United States and Germany called Thursday for concerted efforts to bring to an end the escalating conflict in the Middle East and urged Iran to respond to proposals aimed at getting it to halt uranium enrichment.

In the wake of the latest flare-up triggered by the killing and capture of Israeli soldiers by Lebanese-based Hezbollah guerrillas, US President George W Bush said Israel had the right to defend itself, but stressed the need to preserve democracy in Lebanon.

"Whatever Israel does it should not weaken the Seniora government in Lebanon," the president said in reference to Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, who has been in power since 2005.

Bush was speaking at a press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel during a 36-hour visit to Germany ahead of joining other world leaders at a Group of Eight (G8) summit in St Petersburg.

Merkel said that "everything possible must be undertaken to return to peaceful activities" in the region, urging an end to rocket attacks on Israel and the return of captured Israeli soldiers.

The latest round of tensions came as there was a "a clear and achievable vision" of a two-state solution in the Middle East, Bush said. "When peace advances, the terrorists want to stop it."

Turning to Iran, the two leaders called on Tehran to respond to an offer of political and economic incentives in exchange for halting the enrichment of uranium, which the West fears could lead it to making a nuclear bomb.

The Iranians "can't wait us out," the president said. "It is in our interests to make sure they don't have a nuclear weapons capacity. It would be very dangerous if the Iranians have nuclear weapons."

Iran has so far not responded to the offer made on June 6, prompting agreement among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany to refer Iran back to the world body, which could propose sanctions.

"There will be concerted action and there will be specific steps," said Merkel. "At present we are defining these steps.

"If they (Iran) think they can prevaricate in the hope that the international community will be split, this proves them wrong," said the chancellor.

The Iranian government had been asked to reply to the West's proposals before the beginning of the G8 summit on Saturday, but said it needed until mid-August.

Earlier Thursday, Bush met with local residents in Stralsund's marketplace at the start of a visit designed to underscore his growing ties to the German chancellor.

"We share common values and common interests. We want to work together to keep peace. We want to work together to promote freedom," he told the hand-picked crowd of 1,000.

Bush had a word of praise for the German people, the host town and "the fine chancellor, who I'm proud to call a friend." Merkel, he said, had "a bold vision and a humble heart."

Merkel, who grew up in the former communist East Germany where Stralsund is located, thanked the American people for their support in helping Germany achieve "unification, peace and freedom."

Shortly before the president arrived, a woman lowered a yellow placard from the tower of the church of Saint Nicholas that Bush visited in the afternoon, bearing the words: "No Nukes, No War, No Bush."

Stralsund Mayor Harald Lastovka presented Bush with an oil painting of Stralsund as the president signed the visitors' book in the ornate town hall.

For the evening, an American-German barbecue was planned in the small village of Trinwillershagen where roast pig, venison and duck were on the menu.

Some 12,000 police are guarding the president, who is paying his third official visit to Germany, but his first to the former communist eastern part where Merkel grew up and launched her political career.

In her remarks welcoming Bush, the chancellor pointed to the progress made in the east after the restoration of democracy following nearly half a century of communist rule.

Bush arrived at the former east German air base in Rostock on Wednesday evening and flew by helicopter to his seafront hotel in the historic coastal resort of Heiligendamm, where 15 kilometres of beach was closed to the public for his stay.

Activists planned a series of protest demonstrations during the visit, but a court order kept them away from the centre of Stralsund and out of sight of the president.

Some left-wing members of the government of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, where Stralsund is located, have threatened to speak out against US policies at the protest rallies.

German officials say Bush is fascinated by Merkel's life story. A pastor's daughter, 51-year-old Merkel trained as a physicist before she gradually rose through the ranks of Germany's conservative Christian Democrats to become the country's first woman leader in November last year.


Subject: German news

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