Netanyahu and Merkel focus on co-operation despite deep divide on Iran


German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to emphasise their two nations' strong relations during a visit by the German leader to Israel even as their stances on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal differed.

Merkel's two-day visit to Israel for the restart of intergovernmental talks comes as the European Union is attempting to salvage the nuclear agreement despite the reimposition of U.S. sanctions.

Netanyahu criticised the Iran nuclear deal for "funding Iran's war machine" during a press conference on Thursday with Merkel, but he went on to downplay his level of disagreement with the German leader.

"We agree to agree on most things and we disagree on some things – so what?" the prime minister said during a press conference with Merkel after commending her "unreserved stance" against anti-Semitism.

Merkel told Netanyahu that Germany and Israel are "completely of one opinion" on stopping Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon; they only disagree on the "right path."

Germany is a key nation in preserving the nuclear agreement – formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – which was designed to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear bomb in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal in May and is attempting to pressure Iran through sanctions into renegotiating the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency has found Iran to be in compliance with the agreement.

Merkel also backed Israel's stance on Iran's military presence in Syria, saying that Iranian troops "have to leave." 

Netanyahu has been sounding the alarm against what he says is Tehran's attempt to open a new front against Israel from Syria.

Earlier on Thursday, Merkel visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, where she said her country has an "everlasting responsibility" to commemorate the Holocaust and "to oppose anti-Semitism, hatred and violence."

After visiting Yad Vashem, the chancellor, who already has a PhD in quantum chemistry, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa at a ceremony in Jerusalem and met with Israeli and German businesspeople.

In a meeting with Merkel, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said the European Union is attempting to "bypass" the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran. He called on Europe to join in implementing the sanctions.

"The Iranian monster should be starved, not fed," Rivlin said, adding that Germany should "stand by us in the demand to supervise Iran's nuclear programme and not to let Iran evade its obligations." It is unclear what demands the Israeli president was referring to.

At the UN General Assembly last week, Netanyahu pointed to what he said was an Iranian "atomic warehouse" and called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect the area in question.

The intergovernmental consultations, the seventh such meeting in the last 10 years, were held in Jerusalem, with representatives from each ministry meeting their counterparts. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the recently appointed Anti-Semitism Commissioner Felix Klein were among those present at the meetings. During the consultations the two countries signed a slew of agreements promoting trade, cooperation on fighting climate change and cultural activities among other issues.

The regular meetings were paused in early 2017 amid German objections to Israel's construction of settlements in the Palestinian Territories. During the press conference Merkel denied that intergovernmental consultations were postponed due to disagreements, saying that they were delayed due to German coalition politics.

The impending Israeli demolition of a Palestinian hamlet, Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank has also drawn concern from Germany, which has told Israel to refrain from demolishing the town. Before Merkel arrived in Israel on Wednesday, children from the Bedouin village put up posters of the chancellor calling on her to halt the demolition plans.

At a meeting with university students in Jerusalem, Merkel denied an Israeli report that she demanded the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar take place after her visit to Israel.    (dpa)

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