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Bush and Merkel Push Diplomacy on Iran

President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel say they still believe the Iranian nuclear standoff can be resolved diplomatically, even though Tehran has not yet responded to an offer of economic incentives, if Iran stops enriching uranium.

President Bush says there is no question the issue of Iran enriching uranium can be solved diplomatically.

He met with the German chancellor as part of international efforts to convince Iran to accept a package of incentives to verifiably stop enriching uranium.

President Bush and Chancellor Merkel had hoped Iran would respond to that offer before Saturday's start of a meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations.

But Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, told European officials that Tehran needs more time. That led foreign ministers from the United States, Germany, France, Russia, China and Britain to again refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council.

President Bush says Iran is mistaken, if it thinks stalling will weaken international resolve.

"I truly think they are trying to wait us out - [thinking] 'it is just a matter of time, before people lose their nerve, or a matter of time, before different interests are able to influence the process," Mr. Bush said. "And, I think, they are going to be disappointed. This coalition is a lot firmer than they think."

Chancellor Merkel said the incentives package is a substantive proposal that is in Iran's interests, but if the country does not respond quickly, the international community will take concerted diplomatic action.

"We have waited patiently, whether Iran will examine this offer, and in which way it will react," she said. "So far, we have not had any sort of reliable reaction, and, for us, the precondition for talks has always been the suspension of the uranium-enrichment activities."

Russia and China oppose economic sanctions against Iran. President Bush says he and Chancellor Merkel will raise the issue again with the Russian leader at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg.

"It is important for Angela and myself to work with Vladimir Putin, which we will do at the G-8, to continue to encourage him to join us in saying to the Iranians, loud and clear, 'We are not kidding," Mr. Bush said. "It is a serious issue. The world is united in insisting that you not have a nuclear weapons program.'"

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says his country will not back down from its right to produce nuclear fuel, and may reconsider cooperating with U.N. inspectors.

The United States and many of its allies believe Iran wants to use that fuel to build nuclear weapons. Iran says it is only interested in generating electricity.