WASHINGTON, May 4 (Reuters) President George W Bush demanded on Wednesday that Iran give up nuclear weapons ambitions ''for the sake of world peace,'' as he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized diplomacy in dealing with Tehran.
Bush and Merkel, during an hour of Oval Office talks, yesterday said it was important for the international community to stay united in the drive to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
''The Iranians must understand that we won't fold, that our partnership is strong, that for the sake of world peace, they should abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions,'' Bush said.
Merkel, who came to Washington intent on mapping out a strategy for confronting Iran that will not splinter the West as Iraq did three years ago, said she and Bush saw good chances for bringing about a diplomatic solution.
While Bush in the past has not ruled out military options, he stressed diplomacy and said last week that diplomatic options were just beginning on Iran.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful power generation and will not give it up.
''We are in total agreement saying that under no circumstances must Iran be allowed to come into possession of nuclear weapons,'' Merkel said.
Merkel said it was crucial that ''we try to draw as many partners as possible into the fold to clearly show to the Iranians that this is unacceptable.'' China and Russia are against the possibility of any Security Council sanctions.
Bush said it was a ''good starting point'' that Russia agreed on the ultimate goal that Iran not have a nuclear weapon.
''We will come to a common agreement on how to proceed because this is a common effort,'' he said.
Bush and Merkel's meeting came as Britain, France, and the United States introduced a UN Security Council resolution demanding Iran suspend uranium enrichment that the West suspects is part of a secret nuclear weapons program.
SANCTIONS The text, which is bound to be modified, does not call for sanctions but is tougher than expected. It threatens to consider ''further measures as may be necessary,'' a veiled warning of sanctions the West wants if Iran defies council demands.
Bush, who announced he would visit Germany in mid-July before a Group of Eight summit in St Petersburg, Russia, would not discuss what type of sanctions might be considered. ''That's the kind of question that allies discuss in private,'' he said.
Bush administration officials have said if the United States cannot win UN support, it could work with other countries to punish Iran by imposing sanctions.
Merkel did not answer directly when asked whether she wanted the United States to hold direct talks with Iran, which some Bush critics see as important for resolving the crisis.
She said the EU3 -- European Union members Britain, Germany and France -- had played a crucial role working with Washington.
''I'm fully behind the attempts that have been made by the EU3, together with the United States, because right from the start we have been in on this together, and we shall continue to do so,'' she said.
Merkel, whose visit in January opened a new warmer chapter in ties following her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder's damaging clash with the White House over Iraq, joined Bush in the White House residence for a private dinner and more talks.
Today, she will travel to New York to meet leaders of US industry and finance, before returning to Washington to speak at the 100th anniversary gala of the American Jewish Committee.
Originally intended as a feel-good followup to her successful first trip, the visit has been overshadowed by the mounting crisis over Iran's nuclear program -- a showdown analysts say could reopen newly healed transatlantic wounds.
REUTERS DH RK0640