Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Germany is Israel's #2 importer after the US

Merkel tells Israelis of German 'shame'
By Isabel Kershner
Published: March 18, 2008

JERUSALEM: Angela Merkel on Tuesday became the first German chancellor to address the Israeli Parliament, crowning a three-day visit intended to upgrade ties between the two countries.
The Merkel visit was seen as highly symbolic by both sides, as the Jewish state prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its establishment against the background of the Holocaust.
Paying tribute to the "special relationship" between Israel and Germany, Merkel said that the Nazi genocide filled Germans "with shame."
High on the agenda was what Israel sees as Germany's crucial role in the international campaign against the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Germany, an important trading partner for Iran, has significantly reduced its commercial ties with the Islamic Republic in the last year. But the feeling in Israel is that more could be done.
"The chancellor is fully aware they have to do more to reduce the volume of trade," said Shimon Stein, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany.

Merkel told the Knesset that it was up to Iran to convince the world that it is not building a nuclear weapon, and that Iran's acquisition of one would have "disastrous consequences" and "must be prevented."
Germany, she said, "is setting its sights on a diplomatic solution, together with its partners," and if necessary would support additional sanctions against Iran.
"It's an uphill battle," Stein said of Merkel's commitment. "She's taken it upon herself. Let's hope she can live up to it."
Eight ministers of the German government accompanied Merkel on her visit and held a joint session with the Israeli cabinet Monday, agreeing to future cooperation in a variety of spheres. The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, called the meeting "a unique event, perhaps even unprecedented, in the political history" of Israel.
Earlier Monday, Olmert had accompanied Merkel on her visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial, a move that Merkel described as an "exceptional gesture."
As a head of government, Merkel's request to speak to the Parliament had to be approved by a committee of legislators; the honor is usually reserved for kings, presidents and heads of state.
Seven of the 120 legislators boycotted her address, objecting to the use of the German language in the chamber because of associations with the Holocaust. Others, including Holocaust survivors and the children of survivors, gave the chancellor a standing ovation.
Two German presidents have addressed the Israeli Parliament in their native tongue in the past: Johannes Rau in 2000 and Horst Köhler in 2005. Both times, some legislators stayed away.

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