Putin flies in to meet Merkel

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Russian President Vladimir Putin showed up late, but brought flowers for German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a meeting yesterday where the two were to deal with tough issues such as more sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and independence for Kosovo.

Putin showed up more than two hours behind schedule after being delayed by bad weather in Moscow, and got a warm greeting from Merkel at a restaurant in Hattenheim outside Wiesbaden in southwest Germany.

"We are glad that the president is here. It snowed in Moscow and here there are clear starry skies," Merkel said. The two were to address a Russian-German forum in Wiesbaden's historic Kurhaus resort on Monday.

One major topic on the agenda is what Merkel in her Saturday podcast stressed as "the necessity of new sanctions" against Iran — a source of potential friction with Russia, which is skeptical about efforts in the UN Security Council to impose a third set of sanctions against Tehran for its refusal to halt its uranium enrichment program.

Putin is then scheduled to head for Iran, which has defied the United States and other governments over the issue. Last week, the Russian leader said he saw no "objective data" proving that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

In Moscow, a Kremlin spokeswoman said on Sunday that Putin has been told of a plot to assassinate him during his visit to Iran this week. The spokeswoman, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, refused further comment.