The leaders of Israel and Germany acknowledged Tuesday they don’t see eye to eye on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program as negotiations between Tehran and world powers proceed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes dismantling the program is the best way to prevent Iran from developing an atomic bomb. The six world powers negotiating with Tehran, including Germany, have demanded significant cuts in its nuclear program.
When asked at a press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel if Germany, a key Israeli ally, and the other world powers would accept Netanyahu’s position, he replied “probably not.”
“They talked about the possibility of some enrichment and I think it’s a mistake,” Netanyahu said, seated next to Merkel. “If the world is serious about having Iran with civilian nuclear energy and not having Iran with military nuclear capability, then they don’t need any enrichment, and they don’t need any centrifuges.”
Germany, along with the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, have been pursuing talks meant to roll back Iran’s nuclear program. They ended their last session with a plan to meet again next month.
Merkel said the current situation was not ideal, but that it was preferred over allowing Iran to continue to charge forward with its program unchecked.
“Clearly, there is a different way of looking at this, whether these negotiations should be conducted. We have decided to take this path, that enrichment is only taking place at a low level, but enrichment is taking place,” she said.
The talks are designed to build on a first-step deal that commits Iran to initial nuclear curbs in return for some easing of sanctions. The deal can be extended by mutual consent after six months.
Netanyahu has been an outspoken critic of the international negotiations, saying that Iran has been given significant relief while making few concessions of its own.
Israel views Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat, citing Iran’s repeated calls for Israel’s destruction, its long-range missile program and its support for violent anti-Israel groups like the Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.
Merkel and most of her ministers are on a two-day trip to Israel. Germany is Israel’s closest European ally and holds an annual joint Cabinet session with its Israeli counterparts. The meetings highlight the strong bond between Israel and Germany seven decades after the Holocaust, when Nazi Germany killed 6 million Jews. Germany is also a key Israeli trade partner.
The countries are signing six agreements, including a deal whereby German embassies will offer consular assistance to Israelis in countries where Israel has no embassy of its own and an agreement allowing young Israelis to work in Germany.