German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (pictured) called on Monday (22 February) for salvaging the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers which he said was in Tehran’s interest, writes Stephanie Nebehay.
Addressing the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, he noted the Biden’s administration’s stated readiness to rejoin the pact, adding: “It is in Iran’s best interest to change course now, before the agreement is damaged beyond repair.”
Maas said that Germany expected “full compliance, full transparency and full cooperation” from Iran with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose chief Rafael Grossi returned on Sunday from a trip to Tehran.
European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case
The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.
In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.
The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.
The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.
Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.
For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.
The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.
Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.
A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.
Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.
Merkel promises lockdown will not last a day longer than necessary
Addressing the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, Merkel said the extension was needed to avoid a third wave due to the risk posed by new virus variants.
“I know what we have achieved in our fight against the virus has had, and is still having, a high price,” said Merkel.
A gradual fall in daily infections has raised pressure for an easing of tight restrictions in place since mid-December and Merkel agreed with state premiers on Wednesday that some schools and hairdressers could open sooner than 7 March.
With neighbouring countries seeking to contain major outbreaks, Germany will impose stricter controls on people seeking to enter its territory from the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol region from 14 February, an Interior Ministry spokesman said on Thursday.
The Czech Republic earlier announced a stricter lockdown in three districts, including two on the border with Germany, where coronavirus infections have soared above 1,000 per 100,000 residents over the past week.
“The introduction of border controls is required to prevent the virus (mutation) from being transmitted to Germany,” the Interior Ministry spokesman said, adding that details of how strict the measures will be were still being finalised.
Seeking to reassure Germans that the lockdown was helping, Merkel said she was aware this was the most serious curtailment of freedoms in post-war Germany. She knew many people were lonely and worried about money and their future.
“As a democracy we have a duty not to keep the restrictions in place for a day longer than is necessary,” she said.
Europe’s biggest economy shrank by 5% last year and some businesses are dismayed at the latest extension and the lack of a timetable for easing restrictions.
A vaccination programme offered hope for the coming months, said Merkel, adding that she understood people’s disappointment with the roll-out, which is far slower than in Britain, Israel and the United States.
To avoid a third wave of infections, however, a little more patience was required.
“I don’t think that the back and forth - opening up then closing down again - brings more predictability for people than waiting a few days longer,” said Merkel.
Germany plans to extend lockdown until 14 March
The number of new daily infections in Germany has been falling, leading some regional leaders to push for a timetable to ease the lockdown, but concerns are growing about the impact of more infectious strains of the virus on case numbers.
“We have a highly fragile situation,” Winfried Kretschmann, Greens premier of the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, told Spiegel Online. “We can see in other countries, such as Portugal, how quickly the tide can turn.”
The draft document for the talks, which start in the afternoon, says that hairdressers could reopen under strict conditions from 1 March. The draft is subject to change.
Merkel has made clear that primary schools and nurseries will take priority in any easing. The draft agreement said that individual states can decide on how to re-start classes.
“If the infection figures continue to fall reliably, the highest priority is clearly on the youngest children,” said Kretschmann.
Merkel has in the past also made clear she wants a seven-day incidence of 50 cases per 100,000 people to be the benchmark for restrictions to be lifted. That number currently stands at 68, according to data published by the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases on Wednesday.
Germany reported 8,072 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and a further 813 deaths, bringing the total death toll to 62,969.
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