Merkel meets Chirac for talks on Iran, EU

German Chancellor &to=' target=_blank>Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac met on Monday to discuss a standoff over Iran's nuclear program and the state of the Paris-Berlin axis that has been the driving force behind the European Union.

Before heading into talks, Merkel and &to=' target=_blank>Chirac toured an exhibit of "Splendors of the Saxon Court" in the sumptious chateau at Versailles, 300 paintings, bronzes, crystalware and other items from the 17th-18th centuries on loan from the city of Dresden.

The talks are the latest in a series of informal meetings that Chirac launched with Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder.

Merkel has impressed the world in recent weeks with her consensus-building and pragmatic, balanced diplomacy. Now it was Chirac's turn to impress her, and to keep her committed to preserving the Franco-German axis that has underpinned the European project.

Merkel has worried some in France by reaching out to the United States and Britain, in an effort to heal the trans-Atlantic rift over Iraq. She has also sought to de-emphasize the close relationships with France and Russia that Schroeder favored.

"At first there was a bit of nostalgia for Schroeder" and resistance toward Merkel among French politicians and the public, said Susanne Nies, of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris.

"She was considered too pro-American, too pro-anglophone. But with time we came to understand that she's very open toward France, too," even if she is not as cozy with Chirac as Schroeder was, Nies said.

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