Merkel calls on Iran to recognize Israel's right to exist

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday ruled out Berlin normalizing relations with Iran while Tehran failed to accept Israel's right to exist.

"This has always been made very clear in all discussions that I and our ministers have been involved in," Merkel said at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin.

Germany has stepped up its business and political links with Iran since international sanctions on the country where lifted after last year's nuclear deal between Tehran and a group of world powers, including Berlin.

Merkel met Netanyahu in Berlin as part of the regular consultations between the German and Israeli governments.

The talks also gave Netanyahu an opportunity to once again express his fierce opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran.

"Israel ... is a fortress of western civilization in the Middle East," he said. "If Israel did not exist then the whole western part of the Middle East would have been overrun by radical Islam."

In her comments to reporters, Merkel acknowledged Berlin and Israel's differences over the nuclear deal.

But she said Germany could not open "normal, friendly relations" with Iran while it refused to acknowledge Israel's existence.

Both German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier have travelled to Iran since the atomic energy deal was signed.

Netanyahu was accompanied to Berlin for what is the sixth set of consultations between Germany and Israel by four of his ministers as well as top officials.

Six German ministers and leading officials also attended the talks, which focused on the development of infrastructure and innovation projects between Germany and Israel.

The two leaders also discussed the prospects for peace between the Palestinians and Israel, which have suffered a setback as a result of the recent wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis.

While Merkel did not repeat Berlin's regular criticism of Israel's drive to build new settlements, she reaffirmed Berlin's calls for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But with tensions surrounding Syria rising, the nation's five-year civil war also emerged as a key theme at the talks.

A temporary truce between the warring parties to the Syrian conflict, which was brokered by diplomats in Munich last week, is floundering even before it has been introduced.

This comes amid international concerns about the escalating tensions between Turkey - a NATO member state - and Russia, which are both backing opposing camps in the conflict.

"My clear expectation is that even Moscow and Ankara orient themselves in all their military and political actions at the Munich obligations," said Steinmeier earlier in the day.

Merkel sees reaching a solution to the Syrian conflict as a key part of her plans to stem the flow of refugees into Germany and Europe. As a result, she has stepped up her diplomatic efforts to try to resolve Syria's civil war.

Israel has provided some assistance to rebels battling Syrian government forces and has also launched airstrikes against Syrian and Hezbollah targets.

Last week Netanyahu proposed the construction of a security barrier around Israel to prevent the effects of the Syrian war spilling over onto his nation's territory.

The consultations between Germany and Israel had been scheduled to take place four months ago, but were cancelled after a sudden outburst of violence in Israel forced Netanyahu to delay the talks.

In their talks on Tuesday, Israeli and German ministers drew up plans to tackle cyber crime and for a joint development aid programme for Africa. The cabinets from the two nations also held a joint meeting.

"The discussions showed how deep and broad the cooperation between Germany and Israel has become 50 years after the establishment of bilateral relations," Merkel and Netanyahu said.

The links between the two nations had gone beyond what anyone "would have dared to imagine in 1965," when diplomatic relations were established, the two leaders said.

Merkel and members of her cabinet regularly conduct meetings with their counterparts from other nations with close ties to Berlin, including France, Poland and China.

The German capital has been on high alert since Monday, when the Israeli premier arrived.

Last update: Tue, 16/02/2016 - 17:34

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