Sunday, January 29, 2006

Merkel Says Iran Threatens Entire Democratic World

Louis Charbonneau, Reuters:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the start of her first visit to Israel on Sunday that Iran threatens not only the Jewish state but the entire democratic world, one of her strongest statements to date. READ MORE

Merkel spoke after meeting interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who expressed Israel's concern at Iran's nuclear programme. Israel, the United States and the European Union accuse Iran of trying to build an atom bomb. Tehran denies this.

"Iran is not just a threat to Israel, but also to the democratic countries of this world," Merkel said at the start of a two-day visit to Israel.

She said Germany and Israel were in total agreement when it came to the subject of Tehran's plans to produce nuclear fuel by enriching uranium, a process of purifying uranium for use in atomic power plants or weapons.

"I don't see the slightest difference in the views of Germany and Israel," Merkel said. "It is clear that Iran should not get the ability to enrich uranium."

Israel sees Iran's nuclear programme as an "existential threat" and has even hinted that it could use military force to prevent Tehran from getting a bomb.

Merkel also condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his anti-Israeli remarks. Ahmadinejad has said the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map" and doubted that six million Jews had been killed by the Nazis during World War Two.

"It's unacceptable that Iran's president rejects and falsifies history," she said.

Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany punishable with a prison term of up to five years.

Germany, France and Britain have been trying for more than two years to persuade Tehran to give up enrichment in exchange for political and economic incentives but Iran has refused.

The EU3 have now joined Washington in calling for the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, to take up the matter. On Monday, senior EU3 officials meet with U.S., Russian and Chinese officials in London to discuss Iran.


Olmert thanked Merkel for supporting Israel on the question of Iran's nuclear programme.

"I would ... like to thank you for your position on Iran. It is a topic that causes great concern here in Israel," he said.

Olmert, who has been acting Israeli prime minister since Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke on Jan. 4, also thanked her for shunning the Islamist militant group Hamas, which won last week's general election in the Palestinian territories.

Although she will not meet with any Hamas members, Merkel will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday. This will make her the first EU leader to visit the Palestinian territories since the election.

Hamas's charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and the group has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings in Israel since the start of a Palestinian uprising in 2000.

She was also due to meet President Moshe Katsav and Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party who is challenging Olmert in Israel's forthcoming general election.

Merkel, who grew up in Germany's formerly communist East which never recognised Israel, recalled that 2006 is the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany.

She said Berlin remained totally committed to its "special relationship" with the Jewish state. Protecting and supporting Israel, which acquired statehood in 1948, has been a cornerstone of postwar German foreign policy.

Earlier on Sunday, German junior defence minister Peter Eickenboom confirmed that her government was sticking to the previous administration's plan to help Israel buy two submarines, according to German MDR radio.