Reuters: German Chancellor Angela Merkel heads to Moscow on Monday where she hopes to persuade President Vladimir Putin to join the EU and United States in ratcheting up diplomatic pressure on Iran, German officials said. BERLIN, Jan 16 (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel heads to Moscow on Monday where she hopes to persuade President Vladimir Putin to join the EU and United States in ratcheting up diplomatic pressure on Iran, German officials said.
On her first visit to the Russian capital since taking over from Putins close friend Gerhard Schroeder, Merkel will meet with Putin for about two hours to discuss Iran, energy ties, the situation in Chechnya and other issues, the officials said.
The Iran issue will be in the foreground of the visit, a German government official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
Merkel, who just returned from her first official trip to Washington, agreed with U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday that it was time to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its refusal to abandon uranium enrichment technology that could enable it to get atomic weapons, officials said.
In Washington the hope was expressed that there could be common approach by the EU, USA and Russia, said the official.
The officials said Russia has also expressed displeasure at Irans rejection of Moscows proposal to set up a joint venture inside Russia that would enable Tehran to produce nuclear fuel for what it says is an atomic energy program that is exclusively peaceful in nature.
Germany is the worlds top exporter of goods to Iran and would have much to lose if Tehran faced sanctions. It exported 4 billion euros of goods to Iran last year.
Russia also has significant business interests there and fears sending Iran to the Security Council could escalate Tehrans standoff with West into an international crisis. Among other projects, Moscow is building a $1 billion nuclear power plant at Bushehr in Iran and hopes to build more.
However, Alexander Rahr, an expert on German-Russian relations at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said he believed Moscow and the EU could work together on Iran.
The signs are that Russia has no interest in seeing Iran with a nuclear bomb, Rahr said.
An EU diplomat in Berlin said Merkel hoped to get an assurance from Putin that Moscow would not vote against referring Tehran to the Security Council at an emergency meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog expected to take place next month.
It seems that Putin will agree not to vote no, but will abstain. A yes vote would be better, the diplomat said.
Pipeline on agenda
Germany, France and Britain — the EU3 — said last week that 2-1/2 years of talks with Iran on its nuclear program had reached a dead end. But one German official said the talks could be revived if Iran re-suspended its nuclear fuel activities and reconsidered its rejection of Russias proposal.
The officials said Merkel would also discuss Russias strategic partnership with the EU, including its importance as the EUs top supplier of natural gas. They indicated that the gas-price dispute between Ukraine and Russian gas giant Gazprom may not come up in Merkels meeting with Putin.
Former Chancellor Schroeders deal with Gazprom to run a Baltic Sea pipeline from Russia to Germany bypassing Poland infuriated Warsaw. Schroeder has also come under fire at home and abroad for agreeing to oversee the pipeline for Gazprom.
The chancellor, who grew up in Germanys formerly communist East and speaks fluent Russian, is under pressure from the opposition to confront Putin on reports that the development of democracy and human rights in Russia is slowing down.
Merkels heads a grand coalition government of her conservatives and the Social Democrats.