Iran General NewsIran, Afghanistan top agenda of Sarkozy, Merkel visits

Iran, Afghanistan top agenda of Sarkozy, Merkel visits

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Wall Street Journal: President Bush seeks to strengthen ties with his new European chums next week, as he welcomes French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for special visits. The Wall Street Journal

THE WEEK AHEAD

Politics

By JOHN D. MCKINNON

President Bush seeks to strengthen ties with his new European chums next week, as he welcomes French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for special visits.

Mr. Sarkozy comes to the White House Tuesday evening, where he will be treated to a social dinner and entertainment. The French leader, who has a fascination with the U.S., will have official meetings Wednesday and then tour George Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon, along with Mr. Bush.

Ms. Merkel travels to Texas Friday for a social dinner and overnight stay at Mr. Bush’s Crawford ranch, a rare invitation that has generally been reserved for the president’s closest allies.

The two visits contrast sharply with the chilly relations Mr. Bush had with their predecessors, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder. Still, the closer the U.S. and Europe grow over long-term policy goals, the more complications emerge over how to reach them.

High on the agenda for both meetings will be Iran. Both Mr. Bush and his French and German counterparts would like the U.N. Security Council to impose a new round of economic sanctions to discourage Iran’s nuclear-weapon ambitions. But the U.S.-led campaign has stalled over resistance from Russia and China.

That has encouraged the U.S. to impose new economic sanctions. It is also feeding a growing debate about whether the European Union should follow suit. Mr. Sarkozy appears eager to take the next step. But Ms. Merkel appears more wary, in part because Germany does more business with Iran.

French officials “are pushing hard for additional formal EU sanctions, but the Germans and some other Europeans are resisting,” says Gary Samore of the Council on Foreign Relations. Increasingly, European banks and manufacturers are reducing their exposure to Iran anyway, experts say. But the overall impact is likely to be limited, as long as other companies can fill the void.

A second big topic will be Afghanistan. Mr. Bush worries that the long-term outlook there could be even more troubled when he leaves office than it will be for Iraq. That is largely because of Afghanistan’s lack of natural resources, as well as the strong base of operations that the Taliban enjoys in western Pakistan. Mr. Bush is likely to push for bigger troop commitments to Afghanistan from the two European leaders.

Further complicating the discussions over Afghanistan is the possibility that France under Mr. Sarkozy eventually will elect full membership in NATO, something France spurned for years as a symbol of its independence from the U.S. Now, “Sarkozy seems to be readying the ground for fuller participation in the military structure,” says Stephen Flanagan, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But NATO’s central role in Afghanistan is an emblem of its increasingly far-flung operations, and increasing troop levels there could add to Mr. Sarkozy’s domestic political problems in moving France into NATO.

A third big topic is likely to be Turkey — a critical U.S. ally that is currently under pressure from breakaway Kurds along the Turkey-Iraq border. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is visiting the White House Monday, is likely to press for further U.S. help against the Kurds. He’s also likely to seek U.S. aid in accelerating Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, and overcoming resistance from France, which favors delaying the Turkish accession.

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