BERLIN, (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed solidarity with Israel in the face of threats to the Jewish state on Saturday, the eve of a three-day visit to the country, and said Iran must halt its nuclear programme.
“The threats to which the Israeli state is exposed are also threats to us,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast. She said she would underline on the trip that “the Iranian nuclear programme cannot continue and Iran must finally play to international rules.”
The U.N. Security Council imposed a third round of sanctions on Iran earlier this month for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, adopting a resolution that Germany co-sponsored, though not itself on the council.
Western powers suspect that Iran is secretly trying to build nuclear weapons, but Tehran denies this and says it nuclear programme is intended only to produce electricity.
Judaism is a recognised minority religion in Iran, but Tehran does not recognise Israel and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has often predicted Israel’s imminent demise.
Merkel will be the first German chancellor to address Israel’s parliament, more than six decades after the end of World War Two. Her visit will launch yearly talks between the governments.
She will also visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Monday. “With this (visit) we want to take responsibility for the past … we want to show clearly that Israel’s right to exist is a permanent part of German foreign policy,” she said. Her visit marks the 60th anniversary of the creation of Israel in 1948 and is intended to help further normalise relations between Germany and Israel.
Some commentators say Merkel has been less vocal in her public criticism of Israel than her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, on issues including military action in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The German Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Merkel and peace envoy Tony Blair would organise a Middle East security conference in Berlin in June to discuss the strengthening of the Palestinian police force and justice apparatus.
German media reported all EU members, several Arab states, the Middle East quartet — Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations — and Palestinian and Israeli officials would be invited.