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Bush and Merkel discuss tougher sanctions on Iran

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel told U.S. President George W. Bush on Saturday she would be willing to support a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran if Tehran continues to resist demands to halt sensitive nuclear work.

Merkel, in a visit to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, also said she would consider possible cuts in her country’s brisk trade flows with Iran should other efforts fail to secure Tehran’s cooperation over its nuclear program.

Bush agreed with Merkel that diplomacy was the best way to resolve the standoff with Iran.

“We were at one in saying that the threat posed through the nuclear program of Iran is indeed a serious one,” Merkel said at a joint news conference with Bush.

“We both share this view, but we also were of the opinion that we think that this issue can be solved through diplomatic means; that the next step, then, obviously, would be a resolution,” she said through a translator.

Merkel said she would wait for reports on Iran’s nuclear activities from the European Union negotiator and the U.N. atomic watchdog before making a final decision on sanctions.

Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China are expected to meet on November 19 to assess reports from European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei.

U.S. President George W. Bush fills a glass as he sits next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel before an official dinner in Heiligendamm June 7, 2007. Bush will welcome Merkel to his Texas ranch on Friday where they will seek to show unity on Iran even as Tehran defies the West over its nuclear program. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

“If the reports remain unsatisfactory ... we need to think about further possible sanctions. ... We also have to then talk and agree on further possible sanctions,” Merkel said.

Merkel said she would talk with German companies about “further possible reductions of those commercial ties” with Iran.

The West accuses Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon but Tehran says its nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes of generating electricity.

Bush alarmed some European allies last month when he said a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War III. The Bush administration insists it is committed to pursuing diplomacy with Iran, but also says all options are on the table.


“What the Iranian regime must understand is that we will continue to work together to solve this problem diplomatically, which means they will continue to be isolated,” Bush said at the news conference.

Bush and Merkel’s two days of talks at the ranch also covered issues including Afghanistan, global warming and a planned conference on Middle East peace that Bush is due to host in a few weeks in Annapolis, Maryland.

On climate change, Merkel has been pressing Bush to drop his resistance to mandatory caps on greenhouse emissions. But the U.S. president instead favours voluntary steps toward a long-term goal, resisting tougher measures he contends would harm businesses.

Ahead of a U.N.-sponsored meeting on global warming in Bali, Indonesia next month, Bush gave no indication of a shift in his stance, saying he wanted to tackle climate change but “without ruining our economies”.

The ranch visit was also aimed at deepening ties between Washington and Berlin after a rift that opened over the Iraq war. Bush had a chilly relationship with Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, a vocal critic of the Iraq war.

Bush and Merkel have a friendly rapport which was underscored by his suggestion that she visit the ranch, an invitation he usually reserves for his favourite world leaders.

Bush this week also focused on a renewal of ties with France, hosting French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a formal dinner at the White House and then accompanying him on a tour of the estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia, of the first U.S. president, George Washington. Bush and Sarkozy pledged a common approach on Iran as well.

Bush showed Merkel around his 1,600-acre ranch during a morning walk. Joined by their spouses on Friday evening, the leaders dined on pecan-smoked beef tenderloin and green chilli-cheese grits souffle.

On Saturday, they continued their talks over hamburgers.

Editing by Todd Eastham