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U.S. Urges Restraint By Israel

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Rice said there are "very direct links" between Syria and the Hezbollah attacks on Israel and said "it would be unthinkable" that Iran is not also playing a role. She endorsed U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's decision to send a peace mission to the region.

The flare-up dominated a day of meetings as Bush visited Merkel's home district in the former East Germany. Bush came here to demonstrate his growing friendship with her, in contrast to the strained relationship he had with her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder.

Bush was welcomed with a barrel of herring at a ceremony in front of the gothic Town Hall on Old Market Square in this picturesque Baltic Sea city, founded in 1234. The Germans carefully shielded him from protesters but could not muster the public enthusiasm that has greeted him elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Only a few hundred people made it past security to witness the welcome. Seven rainbow peace flags were hung on a building opposite his stage, and a Greenpeace activist briefly unfurled a large yellow banner from the clock tower that said, "No Nukes, No War, No BUSH!"

The president later was treated to a dinner of wild boar, a menu choice that intrigued him greatly. In his news conference with Merkel, he mentioned it four times. Finally, a German reporter asked, "Apart from the pig, Mr. President, what sort of insights have you been able to gain as regards East Germany?" Bush deflected the question, turning instead to a Middle East issue.

Bush and Merkel presented a united front on Iran in hopes of persuading Russia at the G-8 meeting to join in tough measures. "It's important for Angela and myself to work with Vladimir Putin," the Russian president, "to continue to encourage him to join us in saying to the Iranians loud and clear, 'We're not kidding, it's a serious issue,' " Bush said.

Bush said he would again share with Putin his concerns over the deterioration in Russian democracy but said he did not plan a public confrontation with his host. "Nobody really likes to be lectured a lot, and if you want to be an effective person, what you don't do is scold the person publicly all the time," he said.

Asked about Putin's gibe this week comparing Vice President Cheney's criticism of Russian democracy to an "unsuccessful hunting shot," Bush seemed more amused than offended. "It was pretty clever," he said, chortling. "Actually quite humorous -- not to dis my friend the vice president."

Bush and Putin still hope for an important trade deal to announce at the gathering. Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin reported a breakthrough on banking and insurance issues as the two sides neared an agreement to clear the way for Russia to join the World Trade Organization. "I hope the protocol will be signed before the G-8 summit," Kudrin said.

The two sides remain split over agricultural subsidies and intellectual property rights. "We are continuing to meet and are committed to a commercially strong agreement," said U.S. trade spokesman Sean M. Spicer.

Correspondent Peter Finn in Moscow and staff writers Paul Blustein and Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.


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