MAINZ, Germany – President Bush (search) and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (search) agreed Wednesday to turn down the volume on arguments about Iraq and Iran, demanding in unison that Tehran abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Nearing the end of a five-day reconciliation visit to Europe, Bush also prepared for a showdown Thursday with Russia's Vladimir Putin (search) in Bratislava, the snow-covered capital of Slovakia.
Bush said he was concerned about Putin's restrictions on press freedom and other steps amounting to a retreat from democracy. Still, Bush emphasized he did not want to harm "a close relationship with Vladimir."
Bush raced through a nine-hour stop in Germany after harmonious discussions with European allies in Brussels, Belgium. Iran was a prominent subject in his talks all along the way.
The main question was whether allies should use rewards or punishment to achieve the goal of a non-nuclear Iran, or, as Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, put it: "should there be a mix of carrots and sticks and who should the carrots come from and what should they be."
Bush expressed general support for negotiations by Germany, Britain and France that offer Iran incentives to permanently abandon uranium enrichment that is at the heart of its suspected nuclear weapons ambitions. "We will work with them to convince the mullahs that they need to give up their nuclear ambitions," he said.
But the United States has resisted taking part in the European diplomacy and has insisted so far that Tehran should not be rewarded. Germany has offered to sell Iran an Airbus aircraft and other nonmilitary items to encourage Tehran to keep negotiating and drop its nuclear program.
Bush has suggested that the best strategy might be to ask the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions. "They were caught enriching uranium after they had signed a treaty saying they wouldn't enrich uranium," Bush said.
Hadley said Bush "did a lot of listening. ... The president's really got to go back and think about it." But, said Hadley, there is no rush. "I didn't get a sense, you know, of urgency or anything," he said.
Iran, meanwhile, vowed not to give up its nuclear program — which it insists is for peaceful purposes — and said Bush was backtracking from the possibility of using military force.
"Americans make irrelevant claims," Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (search) said in Tehran. "They've learned their claims are unacceptable and for this reason they are taking back their words."
Security was extraordinary for Bush's stay in Mainz, with all shops and streets shut down and most residents told to stay indoors behind closed shutters. About 5,000 protesters braved the elements, including a wet snow, for a peaceful anti-Bush rally and parade far from the palace where Bush and Schroeder met.
Before leaving Germany, Bush stopped at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield to thank U.S. soldiers for fighting in Iraq. He said they had "acted in the great liberating tradition of our nation."
Schroeder was one of the fiercest critics of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and, even now, Germany refuses to send personnel to Baghdad to train security forces. Germany also laments Bush's refusal to participate in an international climate change treaty and wants the United States to get involved in Europe's negotiations with Iran.
But, standing alongside Bush as a news conference, the chancellor said he did not want to dwell on well-known differences.
"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.
Bush, in a luncheon toast later, said his visit was intended to say that "past disagreements are behind us and we're moving forward for the good of mankind."
Cooperation was the mood of the day.
Referring to Iraq differences, Schroeder said, "That is the past. ... Now, our joint interest is that we come to a stable, democratic Iraq." Schroeder noted Germany is training Iraqi security officers in the United Arab Emirates.
Bush was grateful, saying Germany's contributions to Iraq's new government "are not limited, they're important."
Striving for unity, Bush and Schroeder demanded that Iran get out of the nuclear business, using near-identical words.
"Iran must not have a nuclear weapon," Bush said. "For the sake of security and peace, they must not have a nuclear weapon."
"Iran must not have any nuclear weapons," Schroeder said. "They must waive any right to the production thereof."
Looking ahead to Thursday's meeting with Putin, Bush said America's allies embrace values based on democracy, and that standard "applies to Russia, as well."
At a briefing for reporters, Bush's national security adviser said Putin had cooperated with Bush on issues such as fighting terrorism, arms control, North Korea (search), and other issues.
"For all the discussion there has been about Russian democracy, this is not the Soviet Union you're seeing," Hadley said. "That is history. This is a different Russia."
He said the West would watch how Putin deals with issues such as freedom of the press and religion and rights of assembly and minority rights, and checks and balances on government. "It's a work in progress," Hadley said.
Leaders of Baltic states had urged Bush in Brussels to talk with Putin about improving relations with the former Soviet republics, and Hadley said that was another area where the United States was watching. Russia should resolve disputes with the Baltics, as well as with Ukraine and Gerogia, "in a peaceful way free of coercion," he said.