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Bush, Schroeder united in denouncing Iran's nuclear ambitions

MAINZ, Germany—President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder buried their angry two-year-old split on Wednesday over the invasion of Iraq and insisted that Iran must not develop nuclear weapons.

The two leaders differ somewhat over tactics to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Schroeder, like other Europeans, is banking heavily on diplomacy to persuade Iran, while Bush supports diplomacy but emphasizes that all options—including military force—remain open. Still, both men stressed that they're unequivocally united on the same goal.

"We absolutely agree that Iran must say no to any kind of nuclear weapon, full stop," Schroeder said. "Iran must not have any nuclear weapons. They must waive any right to the production thereof."

For his part, Bush said, "It's vital that the Iranians hear the world speak with one voice that they shouldn't have a nuclear weapon." While noting that "all options are on the table," Bush added: "We've just started the diplomatic efforts, and I want to thank our friends for taking the lead. We will work with them to convince the mullahs that they need to give up their nuclear ambitions."

The men's striking verbal unity of purpose toward Iran mirrored the mood of Bush's tour through Europe since he arrived Sunday. He came to mend relations with America's traditional allies, which were ruptured by the war in Iraq, and by all indications his charm offensive has been highly successful—in Europe.

Iran, however, isn't singing in key.

Shortly before Bush and Schroeder spoke, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami vowed in Tehran that his country won't give up nuclear technology, which he insists is being used for peaceful purposes.

"There are deep differences of opinion between Iran and the Europeans," Khatami said. Even so, he voiced cautious optimism that Iran's talks with diplomats from Germany, Great Britain and France may yet bear fruit.

"Although the pace of talks is slow, I'm not pessimistic," Khatami said.

Bush's five-day European tour will end Thursday in Bratislava, the Slovak Republic, with a potentially contentious meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Bush put Putin on notice Monday that he'll press him to honor democratic reforms in light of the Russian's recent efforts to consolidate power at the expense of political opponents, the news media and independent business leaders. At the same time, Bush took pains again Wednesday, as he had earlier in the week, to assure that "I've got a close relationship with Vladimir, on a personal basis," and that he doesn't want to injure that.

Putin has made clear that he doesn't accept lectures on democracy, telling journalists this week that Russia has a different history and tradition and would therefore have a different democracy, which, he said, "we will determine by ourselves."

For all the focus this week on Iran and Russia, however, Bush's main purpose was to patch up the strained Atlantic Alliance after two years of damaged relations. And everywhere he went, Bush and his European hosts sent every signal they could to show that the relationship is solid, friendly and unshakable, despite the occasional difference.

Almost every other sentence from Bush's mouth was about partnership.

During a news conference Wednesday, Bush began answering a question about Syria by saying, "I had a good talk with President Chirac (of France) on that subject," and later added, "The points that the president of France and I want to make ... ."

During a pre-lunch toast, he said, "The first trip I took after my second inauguration was to Europe because Europe is vital to the United States."

He repeatedly referred to European leaders by their first names and called them his friends.

Schroeder toasted Bush similarly: "Your visit is a strong sign of the true friendship—and I emphasize friendship—and trusting cooperation that has developed between Germany and the United States of America."

At a joint news conference, when Iraq came up, Schroeder kissed off the two men's deep conflict this way: "Now, nobody wants to conceal that we had different opinions about these things in the past, but that is the past. ... And now our joint interest is that we come to a stable democratic Iraq."

German television ran and reran one Bush line, "This great country is the heart of Europe," then proclaimed his visit a success.

Robert McGeehan, a fellow with Chatham House, a London political research center, said the warm rhetoric hasn't gone unnoticed across the continent.

"This visit won't be quickly forgotten," he said. "He's hit all the right notes so far."

Of course, not everyone was thrilled. Recent polls indicate that 4 of 5 Germans disagree with Bush's foreign policy. There were perhaps 10,000 protesters in the snowy streets of this city, carrying banners saying "Murderer" and "Bush Not Welcome."

To be sure, the Bush administration still differs with Schroeder and other European leaders on critical issues, such as the Kyoto Treaty on global warming and Iraq's reconstruction, but even on these issues they found common ground.

They announced a joint German-American effort to develop cleaner, sustainable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to cooperate in improving climate science.

Referring to the agreement, Schroeder said: "This is a piece of progress that you must not underestimate."

Schroeder and Bush also agreed on German "limitations" in Iraq (meaning no troops will be sent), but Bush said German contributions—such as its expertise in building ministries in a new democracy, having absorbed the formerly communist East Germany not long ago—"are important."

The German press called the visit "tauwetter," meaning thawing weather, or spring thaw. Schroeder called it a time to talk about what they share. Bush even offered an explanation for the divide:

"For some, September the 11th was a passing moment in history," Bush said. "In other words, it was a terrible moment, but it passes. For me, and my government, and many in the United States, it permanently changed our outlook on the world. Those two attitudes caused us, sometimes, to talk past each other, and I plead guilty at times."

The leaders were greeted Wednesday morning by German and American soldiers who'd served in Afghanistan.

The leaders also talked with young Germans at a roundtable meeting. In similar meetings in the United States, Bush's operatives take care to select only friendly participants. But Katrin Heuel, 31, a participant Wednesday, said that didn't happen here.

"It was open, he took all questions, and he was relaxed, joking," she said. "It was a very good meeting."

Which is how the trip thus far has been described, which Bush seems to appreciate. He called it "an important trip for my country and for me."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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