WASHINGTON – President Bush on Monday encouraged German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (search) to continue working with France and Great Britain on negotiations to curb Iran's nuclear program and send a "focused, unified message that development of nuclear weapons is unacceptable."
Germany, France and Britain have offered Iran economic concessions if Tehran permanently halts all uranium-enrichment activities. The United States alleges Iran's enrichment program is aimed at building atomic weapons.
The two leaders also discussed Germany's campaign for its own seat on the U.N. Security Council. Bush suggested that the United Nations needs to adopt broad reforms before dealing with the Security Council. The United States has been noncommittal about the idea of a German seat, although Washington is supporting a seat for Japan. "We oppose no country's bid for the Security Council," the president said.
Schroeder said there might be differences between the United States and Germany on the timing of expanding the Security Council. But he said he was "happy to hear there was no opposition to Germany, as such" becoming a permanent member of the council.
Schroeder made his case to Bush by arguing that his country deserves a Security Council seat in part as recognition for the contributions it is making to peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans and the help it is providing to train Iraqi security forces.
"Since we are doing all these things internationally, we would very much hope that at some point in time we could also have the right to representation on the Security Council if there were the space," Schroeder said he told Bush.
Schroeder said repeatedly that Germany -- one of the key opponents to the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq -- had been there "right from the start" to help with Iraqi debt relief and getting Iraqi security forces ready to take over from coalition troops.
As Bush thanked Germany for its contribution to training and reconstruction missions in Iraq, he offered a brief preview of the assessment of the situation there that he is to deliver to the American people on Tuesday night.
"The key to success in Iraq is for the Iraqis to be able and capable of defending their democracy against terrorists," he said. "Parallel with the security track is a political track. And the political track made progress this year when 8 million people went to the polls and voted."
Iran suspended all uranium enrichment-related activities in November to avoid possible sanctions from the U.N. Security Council (search), but it said the suspension was temporary.
On Sunday, Iran's ultraconservative President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (search) vowed to restart the enrichment program, saying Iran needs "peaceful nuclear technology for energy, medical and agricultural purposes."
During the flight from Berlin to Washington, Schroeder announced an "aggressive offer" for Iran regarding its nuclear program. He added that one cannot bar Tehran from the peaceful use of nuclear energy, "even though some might not like that."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday that the United States supports the European nations' effort, but suggested that the Bush administration is not optimistic that Iran would abandon their nuclear ambitions.
"We'll see on the negotiations," McClellan said. "We have reason to be skeptical."
After their Oval Office meeting, Schroeder was having lunch with Bush then addressing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and meeting with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Vice President Dick Cheney also was at the Oval Office meeting.
Relations between Bush and Schroeder remain no more than businesslike after a period of estrangement over the Iraq war, which Schroeder vigorously opposed. The two leaders patched things up at a summit in Mainz, Germany, in February.
Schroeder's visit to the United States was shortened by election-year pressure and overshadowed by the possibility Germany will have a new, more pro-American leader in elections this September. His Social Democratic party lags 17 percentage points behind the conservative opposition in the latest polls, and he lopped a day off the trip due to his tightened schedule, eliminating a visit to California.
Both of the leaders laughed when a German reporter asked if Bush wished Schroeder luck. Bush said they did not discuss the election.
"The chancellor is a seasoned political campaigner. And if there's elections, I'm confident he knows what he's going to do out there.
"As we say in Texas, this won't be his first rodeo," he said.