Both leaders took the opportunity of Merkel's White House visit on Wednesday evening to emphasize the growing closeness of their relationship, following a rocky trans-Atlantic chapter while Gerhard Schröder was in office in Berlin. Bush characterized his relationship with Merkel as "a personal relationship that is developing" while Merkel said "I think that in recent months, a positive and friendly relationship has developed."
But despite the camaraderie on display, Merkel's stay in Washington was overshadowed by tough decisions approaching on Iran. On Wednesday, the US, Britain and France pushed ahead with a draft resolution for the United Nations Security Council which would demand that Iran put the brakes on its nuclear ambitions and would allow for sanctions were Iran to continue flaunting the international community. The resolution would be introduced under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, meaning it could eventually be enforced by sanctions or military action, though a separate resolution would be required to authorize either step.
Speaking to the White House press corps, Merkel said: "We are in total agreement saying that under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to come into possession of nuclear weapons."
The Beijing-Moscow problem
Convincing Russia and China -- likewise veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council along with the US, Britain and France -- to join the Western draft resolution, however, may prove difficult. China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya commented on the draft resolution by saying, "I don't think this draft as it stands now will produce good results. I think it is tougher than expected." Moscow too has been reluctant to pursue sanctions against Iran. On Wednesday, though, Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he could support the draft resolution pending a few changes.
While Germany is not a permanent member of the Security Council, Merkel has evolved into a key player in trying to keep the council members on the same page and working toward the same goal. She has often taken on the role of slowing down Bush's headlong rush to penalize Iran. On Wednesday, while agreeing that something had to be done, she once again went to her trusted playbook, saying: "It is crucial, if one wants to see this conclude with a diplomatic success, to actually do this on a step-by-step basis. Quite often, attempts have been made to rush matters."
Foreign ministers from the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany will meet again on Monday and Tuesday in New York before negotiations begin next Thursday.
Merkel, for her part, is in New York on Thursday for meetings with business leaders. In the evening, she will address the 100 anniversary celebration of the American Jewish Committee -- and she will become the first German chancellor ever to address the group.
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