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German, Russian Leaders Discuss Iran, Trade, Other Issues


German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday in Moscow, the latest stop on her tour of several world capitals. The two pledged to work together on various issues, amid signs her relationship with the Russian leader will not be as close as the one that Mr. Putin had with her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder.

Angela Merkel arrived in Moscow saying she wanted to preserve the "strategic partnership" that Germany has developed with Russia in recent years.

The two leaders spent several hours together in the Kremlin discussing a range of issues, most importantly how to deal with Iran's nuclear program. U.S. and European officials say Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies.

Western countries have moved a step closer to referring Iran to the United Nations Security Council after Tehran resumed work on its nuclear program last week.

Russia has opposed such a move, in part because it has long supplied Iran with nuclear technology that both countries say is only for peaceful purposes.

President Putin told Chancellor Merkel there is still time to reach a compromise with Iran.

Mr. Putin says Iran has not rejected a Russian proposal to jointly enrich uranium in Russia that could be used to produce nuclear energy, but not a nuclear bomb.

The two leaders also discussed Russia's energy policy, which has gained greater attention following the recent dispute between Russia and neighboring Ukraine over gas prices.

European leaders expressed concern about Russia's reliability as an energy supplier after Moscow cut off the flow of gas to Ukraine on New Year's Day, a move that also affected gas supplies to Europe.

Though Russia has resumed supplying gas to Ukraine, the cutoff has prompted the European Union to consider getting new sources for its gas and oil. The energy issue is especially critical for Germany, as it gets over 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia.

Chancellor Merkel says that she and Putin also discussed the pipeline that will run directly from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

Former Chancellor Schroeder came under intense criticism after he accepted a key post with a consortium involved in the project just weeks after he left office.

Ms. Merkel says she supports the project but adds that it is not aimed at any other countries, a reference to Poland and other east European nations that oppose the new pipeline as it bypasses them.

The two leaders did disagree on some topics, such as the war in Russia's breakaway region of Chechnya and a new law that will restrict the activities of non-governmental organizations in Russia.

Chancellor Merkel is under pressure in Germany to take a tougher approach on human rights in Russia, as well as Moscow's perceived backsliding on democratic reforms, issues that former Chancellor Schroeder almost never addressed.

But the two leaders made clear that the issues they have in common far outnumber those they disagree on. Above all, both seemed intent on demonstrating the need to continue their "strategic partnership."

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