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Bush, German Leader Discuss Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 11, 2008 – President Bush today thanked the German people for their help in Afghanistan and Iraq, following discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Meseberg, Germany.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
President George W. Bush and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands after participating in a joint press availability Wednesday, June 11, 2008, at Schloss Meseberg in Meseberg, Germany. Bush publicly thanked the German people for their efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. White House photo by Eric Draper

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Bush thanked the German people for their efforts in Afghanistan, and he noted that the deployment is not popular in their country.

“I hope when the Afghanistan debates go forward, people here think of young girls who couldn't go to school in the past but now can, or think of mothers who bring their babies to health clinics for the first time, [or] think about farmers who now have got access to markets to help deal with food shortages,” Bush said. “This is hard work -- I understand that -- to help a young democracy grow after years of tyranny. But I believe it's necessary work.”

Bush also thanked Germany for contributions to Iraq. “This has obviously been a contentious issue between our countries in the past, but what shouldn't be contentious is the mutual desire to help advance freedom in the Middle East as the great alternative to the ideology of the haters and the murderers -- those who espouse violent extremism to advance their agenda,” the president said.

Bush told reporters that the United States will forge a strategic agreement with Iraq.

“I strongly support the agreement, because I think it helps send a clear message to the people of Iraq that [the] security you're now seeing will continue,” Bush said. “One of the lessons of Iraq is that, in order for a democracy to develop or in order for an economy to develop, there has to be a measure of security, which is now happening. So I think we'll get the agreement done.”

The president reiterated that the agreement will not involve permanent U.S. bases, nor will it bind any future administration to troop levels.

Bush said Iraqi leaders appreciate U.S. presence in the country, and that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “understands that we're returning on success.”

“As the situation merits and the situation improves, we're bringing our troops home,” the president said.

Bush and Merkel also talked about the Middle East and the problem that Iran’s push for nuclear weapons poses for the world.

Merkel said the leaders discussed the “offers we put on the table to Iran, but also the fact that if Iran does not meet its commitments, then further sanctions will simply have to follow.” The chancellor said Germany wants to leave room for a diplomatic solution with Iran.

Bush said he also wants a diplomatic solution with Iran, but refused to take any options off the table. The president said he wants the United States and the European Union to work closely together on Iran. The message to leaders in Tehran, he said, is that if they verifiably suspend the uranium enrichment programs, they will end their isolation. “Obviously, we want to solve this issue peacefully, and so we'll give diplomacy a chance to work,” he added.

But Iran has so far disregarded that message. “It's a bad choice for the Iranian people,” the president continued. “The Iranian people deserve better than being isolated from the world.”

They also deserve better than having their government regarded as “unsafe and not trustworthy,” he said.

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