President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Wednesday played down their differences over an array of international problems and instead stressed their common objectives in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, helping rebuild Iraq and developing technologies to combat global warming.
“We have agreed that we are not going to constantly emphasize where we’re not agreeing. But we want to focus on where we do agree,” Schroeder said after an hourlong meeting with Bush, their first in a year. The leaders had what the chancellor described as “a very, very intense discussion” that “basically covered each and every subject that is a high-ranking one on the international political agenda today.”
Bush was equally determined to dwell on the positive. During their news conference, he called Germany “a partner in peace and a partner in freedom and a partner of doing our duty.”
Still, it was far from clear that tangible progress would result from the Bush-Schroeder meeting, their warmest since a rift in 2002 over the Iraq war. Both men professed that those days were gone.
On Iran, Bush softened his tone, saying that he appreciated efforts by Germany, France and Britain to negotiate with Iran in hopes of reaching an agreement that would allow Tehran to have a civilian nuclear energy program and other economic benefits in exchange for a pledge to renounce its purported quest for atomic weapons. Previously, the Bush administration was lukewarm, at best, toward those talks, saying that it opposed dangling carrots before Tehran.
“I think there’s a convergence on the importance of us being clear on the goals and wanting to make sure that the three countries, in discussion with Iran and the United States, really have a clear understanding of what the goals are and share them,” said Stephen J. Hadley, the president’s national security advisor. “And I think that’s an accomplishment here.”
Another senior U.S. official acknowledged Bush’s shift in tone. “Last fall, we were yelling at each other,” he said.
“We’ve just started the diplomatic efforts,” Bush said here. “We will work with [the Europeans] to convince the mullahs that they need to give up their nuclear ambitions.” But Bush did not specify how the U.S. would do so.
“There was a lot of discussion about where we go from here,” Hadley said. “And the president has really got to go back and think about it, quite frankly.”
Referring to his discussions with Schroeder, and with French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Brussels, Bush added, “What we discussed with our German friends, and French and British friends as well, is a series of negotiating tactics: how to make sure the process moves forward without yielding [on] our universal demand.”
Schroeder told reporters that his talks with Bush on Iran “took quite a bit of space,” but they ultimately found themselves “fully congruous” on the objective.
“We absolutely agree that Iran must say no to any kind of nuclear weapon, full stop. This is the joint target that Europeans uphold as much as the U.S.,” he said.
Another senior administration official said Wednesday that the White House was pleased by the renewed transatlantic focus on the strategy toward Tehran. “There was a sense last fall that the issue of Iran was becoming more of a difference over tactics between the United States and Europe,” he said. “Now, happily, the discussion is focused again on the real problem, which is the nature of Iranian behavior.”
Schroeder lauded the U.S. commitment to advancing the Middle East peace process, saying that Washington’s strong interest made him believe that “we will come to a solution here.” For his part, Bush praised Germany for training Iraqi troops.
Global warming, an issue that continues to divide the U.S. and much of Europe, was a major topic during the leaders’ meeting. Germany was a prominent advocate of the Kyoto Protocol, an international pact to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases. Bush flatly rejected the treaty in 2001, causing considerable consternation in Europe and contributing to a perception on the continent that he has unilateralist tendencies.
Schroeder and Bush acknowledged their differences on the issue, but sought common ground.
“The Kyoto treaty was not appreciated by everybody, and that is something that has continued to exist,” the German leader said.
Yet, he continued, “we think that there could be room for maneuver, particularly in the field of technology, where the United States of America and Germany both have tremendous know-how, and we would like to deepen cooperation in this field, irrespective of the question of whether Kyoto is the right tool to be going about things or not.”
In a fact sheet issued here, the White House said the U.S. and Germany would collaborate on developing cleaner, more efficient technologies to support sustainable development and address air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions around the world.
On Syria, Bush reiterated his demand that it withdraw its troops from Lebanon, but he also warned Damascus to refrain from interfering with upcoming elections in Lebanon, which he said “need to be free, without any Syrian influence.”
Schroeder treated Bush to a red-carpet ceremony in this picturesque town. The welcome took place in the courtyard of the centuries-old Electoral Palace.