Israeli and German leaders mull Mideast peace
13 December 2006, Berlin (dpa) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday amid differences over how to involve Syria in the Mideast peace process. Merkel told a news conference ahead of the talks there could be no peace in the Middle East without Syrian involvment. Syria had to be a partner in the region, simply because it was there, she said. "It is important to tell the Syrians the expectations that one has of them," said the chancellor, who hopes to launch a ne
13 December 2006
Berlin (dpa) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday amid differences over how to involve Syria in the Mideast peace process.
Merkel told a news conference ahead of the talks there could be no peace in the Middle East without Syrian involvment. Syria had to be a partner in the region, simply because it was there, she said.
"It is important to tell the Syrians the expectations that one has of them," said the chancellor, who hopes to launch a new Mideast initiative when Germany takes over the EU presidency in January.
Before arriving in Germany on Monday evening, Olmert warned Berlin against drawing Syria into the Middle East peace process and criticized a visit to Damascus last week by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Syria, Olmert said, was actively involved in acts of terrorism against the Lebanese government and also provided support to terrorists operating in Iraq.
Israeli reports said the two leaders held an unscheduled three-hour meeting on Monday evening, but there was no confirmation for this from German officials.
The Israeli leader, who is paying his first visit to Germany as premier, caused a storm of controversy over remarks taken as an admission that Israel possessed nuclear weapons.
Speaking to Germany's SAT 1 television, the prime minister was asked whether Israel's nuclear arsenal - which until now it has never publicly admitted to having - undermined the West's objections to a nuclear Iran.
"Israel is a democracy and does not threaten anyone ... Iran explicitly, openly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map," an agitated Olmert replied.
"Can you say that this is the same level, when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel and Russia?" he asked.
Officials in the prime minister's office later said that Olmert, when mentioning America, France, Israel and Russia, was referring to democratic countries, and not to nuclear ones.
Israeli sources expect the premier to urge Germany to support UN sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt its controversial nuclear programme, which the West fears is geared to making weapons.
At her news conference, Merkel said she would encourage Olmert to go with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and support a national unity government for all Palestinians.
But it was important, she said, that Israel's right of existence is recognized by all Arab states, something which the Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories refuses to do.
Other issues expected to come up in the talks are the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon and the subject of the three Israeli soldiers held captive - one by Hamas and two by Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Germany has in the past negotiated prisoner swaps between Israel and Hezbollah and the country's foreign intelligence service chief Ernst Uhrlau is working behind to scenes to arrange another exchange.
Olmert began his visit two-day visit Tuesday by paying homage to Jews deported to concentration camps during World War II.
Olmert laid a wreath at the Platform 17 memorial erected by Germany's national railway service, Deutsche Bahn, at the former goods station of Berlin-Grunewald. Some 50,000 Berlin Jews were deported from the station between 1941 and 1945.
The Israeli premier was due to confer with German President Horst Koehler after his discussions with Merkel before travelling on to Italy on Wednesday where a Vatican audience with Pope Benedict XVI was part of the agenda.
Subject: German news