Iran crisis set to dominate Bush-Merkel talks

12th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

12 January 2006, BERLIN - The growing sense of crisis surrounding Tehran's nuclear ambitions is likely to see Iran being pushed to the top of the agenda of Angela Merkel's first visit as German chancellor to the White House on Friday.

12 January 2006

BERLIN - The growing sense of crisis surrounding Tehran's nuclear ambitions is likely to see Iran being pushed to the top of the agenda of Angela Merkel's first visit as German chancellor to the White House on Friday.

The talks will follow on an emergency meeting of the British, French and German foreign ministers in Berlin on Thursday to discuss the Iranian nuclear question, an issue which is likely to overshadow other topics in Washington.

The rising concerns about Iran might help Merkel to find common ground in her talks with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Nevertheless, Merkel faces a very delicate task in Washington as she tries to strike a balance between her own plans for reinvigorating Berlin's trans-Atlantic relations and the deep distrust in Germany towards the Bush administration.

"I want to improve the quality of U.S.-German relations," said Merkel, after former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's opposition to the invasion of Iraq plunged Berlin-Washington ties to a post-World War II low.

Officials also expect the talks between Merkel and Bush to focus on the Middle East at the end of the era of Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon, who is gravely ill in an Israeli hospital following a massive brain haemorrhage.

Merkel's visit to Washington comes after a series of trips to Berlin's key international partners, including Paris, Brussels and Warsaw.

The three hours of talks at the White House are also likely to help set the stage for a meeting next week in Moscow between Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

With this in mind, Merkel's meeting with Bush is also expected to touch on energy after last week's so-called gas war between Moscow and Kiev exposed Europe's dependence on Russian energy.

"There are concerns in America and in Europe that Russia might also use gas deliveries in the future as a political weapon," a senior U.S. official told Germany's daily Handelsblatt this week.

In addition to reaffirming Germany's commitment in the fight against terrorism, the chancellor's plans to boost ties with Central and Eastern nations are likely to be well received in Washington, analysts in Berlin believe.

Most Central European states have already forged close links with Washington.

However, growing international unease about Iran is likely to mean that fresh U.S.-German tensions in recent months are unlikely to figure prominently in the Merkel-Bush meeting.

In particular, this includes allegations that a Lebanese-German national was picked up by the CIA and taken to Afghanistan, as well as reports of CIA aircraft transporting terror suspects across Europe and Germany to secret prisons.

Merkel's trip to Washington comes less than two months after she was sworn in as Germany's first woman chancellor, having pieced together a grand coalition government comprising her conservative Christian Democratic (CDU/CSU) alliance and the rival Social Democrats (SPD).

This followed Germany's inconclusive September elections, which helped to pave the way for the 51-year-old pastor's daughter from the former East Germany to edge Schroeder out of power.

Basking in the glory of a strong set of recent approval ratings from German voters, Merkel is also travelling to the U.S. at a time of growing optimism about the outlook for Europe's biggest economy following a protracted period of economic stagnation.

Relations between Washington and Berlin have "already become closer" following Merkel's election as German leader, Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state, said in an interview with the German daily Der Tagesspiegel.

But Merkel has also made it clear that she does not intend to be compliant in her moves to forge new ties with Washington.

In the build-up to her Washington visit, she said she planned to raise closing America's controversial detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in her talks with the U.S. president.

This comes against the backdrop of moves by Berlin to secure the release from Guantanamo Bay of a young Turkish Islamist who grew up in Germany and went to Afghanistan to fight.

Underscoring the role Iraq is likely to play in Merkel's White House talks, Berlin indicated shortly before she headed off to Washington that it was prepared to offer an additional 8.2 million euros (10 million dollars) towards the rebuilding of Iraq.

But Merkel's government has already made it clear it has no plans to send troops to Iraq.

By calling on the White House to shut down Guantanamo Bay, Merkel appears to be signalling that there are limits to her trans-Atlantic agenda, especially in terms of deeper commitments to Iraq.


Subject: German news

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