Bush and Merkel try to become friends

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking to improve her country's relations with President George W. Bush, buoyed by an emerging international effort aimed at halting Iran's nuclear program. While Merkel has indicated Germany will not always agree with the United States, her White House meeting Friday comes on the heels of a decision by European allies to confront Iran, an approach that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice endorsed.

Their unity was as tight as their disagreement over Iraq was wide when Gerhard Schroeder was Germany's chancellor. An election in September put Merkel at the head of a closely divided coalition government. Schroeder's opposition to the U.S.-led war that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein so divided the German's relationship with Bush that the president refused at times to speak to Schroeder on the telephone.

Merkel, by contrast, is more in tune with Bush's conservative politics. Departing for Washington, she said she expected "a first visit that will take place in a friendly atmosphere, one of partnership, and an open one." Iran is one area where Merkel and Bush are closing ranks. Lining up with Britain and France, Merkel's coalition government concluded Thursday that negotiations with Iran were at a dead end and their effort to stop Iran from making nuclear weapons should go to the U.N. Security Council.

Merkel, making her first comments in Washington at a dinner Thursday night, said Iran had "crossed the red line" by resuming its nuclear activity, and the United States and Europe must continue to face down the Iranians together. Rice said earlier: "It is very clear that everyone believes a very important threshold has been cleared." She said she was sending senior aides to Europe to plan strategy with the allies.

Besides meeting with Bush, Merkel scheduled a session with members of Congress and planned to attend a ceremony at the newly renovated headquarters of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Despite her calls for a partnership with Washington, Merkel already has demonstrated a strong streak of independence, reports the AP. N.U.