From: Ben Feller, Associated Press
Published January 5, 2007 12:00 AM

Bush, Merkel Pledge Closer Cooperation on Mideast, Global Warming

WASHINGTON -- President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged closer cooperation on combatting global warming and in trying to prod a Middle East peace on Thursday, brushing aside lingering differences between the two countries.

Bush said at a joint White House news conference that he was open to new ideas to confront climate change, although he stopped short of some of the tight environmental standards favored by Germany and other European nations.

"We talked about climate change, and I assured the chancellor I'm committed to promoting new technologies that will promote energy efficiency and do a better job protecting the environment," Bush said. "I believe there is a chance now to put behind us the old stale debates of the past."

It was a reference to past differences between Bush and European allies on the Kyoto accords, an international agreement to reduce pollution that causes global warming. It has not been ratified by the United States.

For her part, Merkel said, "I was delighted to hear that there is a readiness there."

"We will continue to have our experts work on it," she added. "On the one hand, we obviously need economic growth, but on the other hand, a reduction, also of greenhouse gases."

Bush praised Merkel for her efforts to put the so-called quartet-- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- at the center of a revived Israeli-Palestinian peace effort.

"Madame Chancellor had a good idea to convene the quartet," Bush said. He said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would soon be going to the region to try to revive the process.

"We're strongly committed to a two-state solution. Two democracies supporting each other's rights to exist," Bush said. He said, however, that he was unwilling to expand the quartet.

The two leaders conferred on issues ranging from war and energy problems to the economy, trade and dealing with the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.

Merkel's visit came just days after Germany assumed the presidency of the 27-nation European Union and the Group of Eight major industrialized democracies.

With British Prime Minister Tony Blair expected to step down this year, Merkel is emerging as Bush's top ally in Europe.

Being seen to have friendly relations with Bush carries some risks for Merkel, given the president's unpopularity in Europe. But she minimizes them by publicly raising points of difference such as her stance that the prison camp at Guantanamo should be shut down -- although she did not raise the issue, at least publicly, on Thursday.

Bush and Merkel barbecued a wild boar together when Bush visited her home parliamentary district last July.

"Laura and I are looking forward to feeding you dinner. I'm not so sure it's going to be as good a dinner as the barbecue you fed us," Bush said.

He also made a lighthearted reference to an impromptu back rub that he gave Merkel at an international forum last year. His rubbing of the back of her neck and shoulders was captured on camera, as was her look of surprise and a grimace.

As the two ended Thursday's news conference and headed for dinner, Bush said softly, "No backrub."

Source: Associated Press

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