Merkel: Burden of proof is on Iran over nuclear program

20th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

The chancellor told the Knesset that Germany has a "special historic responsibility toward Israel's security."

Jerusalem -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel lashed out at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Tuesday, telling Israel's parliament that the burden of proof over whether Iran was building a nuclear bomb or not lay with Tehran.

Wrapping up a three-day visit to Israel with an historic address to the Knesset, Merkel said Germany had a "special historic responsibility toward Israel's security" and expressed unequivocal support for the state "of the Jewish people."

"The world must not prove to Iran that Iran is building an atom bomb. Iran must convince the world that it does not want an atom bomb," said the German leader, addressing Israel's fears of a nuclear Iran.

Germany would push for further sanctions against Iran if it did not cooperate with efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis over its nuclear program.

She condemned Ahmadinejad's repeated "verbal abuse" of Israel, which includes calls for the country's destruction and denials of the Nazi genocide of six million Jews in World War II

Merkel, who received a standing ovation on concluding her speech, was also applauded when she opened it by saying in Hebrew that it was a "great honor" for her to address the House.

The Knesset had especially changed its regulations to allow to become the first foreign head of government to address it.

Thus far, only heads of state, including two German presidents and most notably former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1977, have spoken in the Knesset plenum.

Merkel spoke in German, prompting at least five legislators to boycott her address in protest. Her decision to speak in her own language was "insensitive" to Israel's Holocaust survivors and their relatives, they complained.

But she thanked the vast majority of lawmakers who remained for her speech "for allowing me to speak to you in my mother tongue."

The "mass murder" of six million Jews "in the name of Germany" was "without example," and had caused "indescribable" suffering to the Jewish people, she said, adding:

"The Shoah (Hebrew for Holocaust) fills us Germans with shame. I bow before the victims. I bow before the survivors and before all those who helped them survive.

"I am deeply convinced of it: Only if Germany recognizes its everlasting responsibility for the moral catastrophe in German history, can we shape the future humanely."

Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in their addresses both called on Germany to take the lead in European attempts to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu was the most direct when he said that "we must all make clear that if the sanctions don't stop the nuclear program, there are other options to stop it, including military options."

"I am glad to receive you here as leader of the opposition and as such to make clear that your are a wanted guest," Netanyahu said, even though "some of our members may not be here."

"Certainly one can understand their pain," he said, but added their boycott was "not personal" against her or her government.

The five legislators who were absent included two members of his hardline Likud party, two of the ultra-right National Union and one of the dovish, coalition Labour Party.

Labour lawmaker Shelly Yachimovich, daughter of Holocaust survivors, said she opposed holding the address in German, because it was "the language of their torturers -- SS officers, camp commanders and the Gestapo."

Germany is a "friend of Israel," but the feelings of the survivors should be taken into consideration, she said.

"It's very hard to hear the German language in the Knesset. We want to remind (people) that despite the fact that Germany today is indeed showing friendship toward Israel, we remember what had happened," Yitzhak Levy, of National Union, told Israeli reporters.

But a 73-year-old lawmaker, who is a Holocaust survivor herself, criticized the boycott as "nothing but populism."

"It doesn't bother me at all that Merkel chose to speak in German," said Romanian-born Sara Marom Shalev, of the coalition Pensioners' Party.

The spat, however, did not overshadow the visit marking Israel's 60th anniversary and the German leader -- who described current Israeli-German relations as "outstanding" -- received a red-carpet welcome when she arrived at the Knesset.

Israel and Germany established ties in 1965 after years of negotiations, including over reparations for Jewish property seized during the Holocaust. Israel has since come to regard Germany as its strongest ally in Europe.

And on Monday, the two countries further tightened their friendly but loaded relations by signing a bilateral agreement for closer military, cultural, political and economic cooperation.

The agreement was signed at a highly symbolic, first-ever joint cabinet session in Jerusalem, attended by 17 ministers of both sides, including Merkel and Olmert.

During her trip Merkel did not travel to the Palestinian territories, which she is due to visit separately later this year.

DPA with Expatica

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