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Bush In Germany, But Focus On Mideast

The escalation of violence in the Middle East is taking the focus away from other world trouble spots as President Bush continues his visit to Germany, in advance of the G-8 summit in Russia.

As he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reporters asked Mr. Bush about Israel's military assaults in southern Lebanon, which have killed nearly three dozen civilians. He said "Israel has the right to defend herself," but called on Jerusalem not to do anything that would weaken the Lebanese government.

Mr. Bush laid the blame for the increased violence along the border on Hezbollah, whose guerrillas mounted a cross-border raid earlier in the week and captured two Israeli soldiers. He also said that Syria "needs to be held to account" for supporting and harboring Hezbollah.

Merkel called for restraint from both sides.

On Iran, Mr. Bush told reporters that the government there is "trying to wait us out," in refusing to respond to a package of incentives aimed at ending its uranium enrichment.

"I think they are going to be sorely mistaken," he said. "I think they are going to be disappointed, that this coalition is a lot stronger than they think."

Downplaying tensions between U.S. and Russia – where Mr. Bush is headed on Friday – the president laughed off a comment from Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who said Vice President Cheney's recent criticisms of Moscow were like an "unsuccessful hunting shot." Mr. Bush called the reference to Cheney's hunting accident "pretty clever."

Both Merkel and Mr. Bush said they would like to see democratic reforms in Russia and would press that point in private. But they agreed they are reluctant to criticize Putin harshly in public.

"Nobody really likes to be lectured a lot," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush and Chancellor Merkel were celebrating a new era of relatively tension-free U.S.-German relations. The controversy between the two countries over American detentions at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba didn't even come up in their joint availability either in remarks by the leaders or questions from reporters.

And the subject of the war in Iraq, which so divided Mr. Bush and Merkel's predecessor, former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, was barely mentioned.

While Mr. Bush was in Germany, however, the White House did announce that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would be visiting Washington later this month to meet with the president. The two first met on June 13, when Mr. Bush made a surprise trip to Baghdad.

"I bring a message from the American people: we're honored to call the German people friends and allies," Mr. Bush told a crowd of several hundred gathered for his arrival in this northern port city's old market square.

Merkel welcomed Mr. Bush to her home district in the formerly communist Eastern Bloc region with a gift of a small barrel of local herring. The president laughed, both surprised and pleased.

A military band played marches in the cobblestoned city center — towered by St. Nicholas Church and a town hall dating to medieval times — where most of the president's events for the day took place.

In the evening, Mr. Bush's visit to Merkel's old neighborhood was wrapping up with a wild boar barbecue in the small town of Trinwillershagen.

Though anti-Bush protesters gathered, thousands of police were keeping most far from the areas he was to tour.

But before the president's arrival from an overnight in a resort town on the Baltic Sea, a representative from the environmental group Greenpeace struggled to display a yellow "No War, No Nukes, No Bush" banner from the church's clock tower.

Reflecting the widespread dislike of the Iraq war in Germany, eight rainbow peace banners also hung from the trade union building on the square, directly across from Mr. Bush's podium.

Security was tight. Fighter jets patrolled the skies and police checked the city's 2,200 manhole covers, welded shut to ensure nothing disrupted Mr. Bush's visit. Residents were prohibited from opening windows and shops were ordered closed.

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