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At start of his European visit, Israeli President Rivlin talks with his German counterpart on Iran, ICC and the Palestinian issue



Israel's President Rivlin began his visit to Europe in Berlin, meeting the President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier, together with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Picture by Amos Ben Gershom, GPO.

“The international community must stand together, speaking out strongly and without compromise against Iran’s nuclear plan and its support for terrorist groups that threaten Israel and the stability of the region,” said Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Berlin where he started Tuesday (16 March) a diplomatic visit to three European countries where he will hold meetings on the dangers of Hezbollah’s rising power, the intensification of Iran’s nuclear project and the International Criminal Court, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.  

Rivlin, who is accompanied by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, began his visit with a working meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier during which he stressed Israel’s appreciation for Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security, to regional stability and the important strategic relations between them.

Speaking about Iran, the Israeli president said it was using “nuclear blackmail” to obtain relaxation of the economic sanctions. He added that Israel attaches great importance to setting out red lines for Iranian conduct that will prevent further development of its nuclear program.

The president also raised the recent decision of the International Criminal Court to open investigations against the State of Israel regarding alleged war crimes. He emphasized that Israel sees the chief prosecutor’s decision in a very poor light. ‘’For us, this is a scandalous decision,’’ he said.

Rivlin thanked his counterpart for Germany’s stance with Israel against the decision of the Court, saying: “The State of Israel is a strong, Jewish and democratic state which knows how to defend itself and how to investigate itself when required. We are proud of our soldiers, our sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. They protect us from our enemies and we will protect them from this decision. The State of Israel will not accept claims against the implementation of her right and duty to protect her citizens.”

“We trust that our European friends will stand by us in the important fight on the misuse of the International Criminal Court against our soldiers and civilians,’’ the Israeli president said.

The president also spoke about the Palestinian issue, saying that Palestinian attempts to ‘legalise’ the conflict would lead to further polarization between the sides and the continuation of the crisis.’’

“We cannot expect that confidence-building measures and improvement in our relations when one side is advocating criminal investigations of the other side’s civilians in a foreign court,” he said.

He added that COVID-19 has proved that borders are artificial and that cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians is crucial since our lives are inextricably linked together.

During the meeting, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi gave a briefing on a number of security issues, particularly Iran and Lebanon, and elaborated on the failings of the nuclear agreement with Iran. He spoke about regional challenges emanating from Iran, from Syria to Yemen, how Lebanon and Hezbollah are ignoring UN Security Council Resolution 1701, and the implications of precision missiles trained on Israel.!1&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=hBzCA22gms&p=https%3A//

The Chief of Staff also raised the issue of Israeli soldiers missing in action and the implications of the recent decision by the ICC ‘’which represent a significant challenge to democratic states’ ability to engage terrorist forces that hide behind civilian populations.’’

“I can say with confidence that IDF officers and soldiers do everything, and have done everything over the years and in all operations, not to harm innocent civilians,’’ Kochavi said.

‘’I have seen it with my own eyes many times as a brigade and divisional commander, in the alleyways of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. When there was a suspicion that innocent civilians were harmed, we knew how to investigate our actions thoroughly and, when necessary, those responsible faced the law,” he added.

During a joint statement, German President Steinmeier stressed that ‘’this is the first visit by a president to Germany this year.’’ ‘’Our last meeting here in Berlin was a little over a year ago, before the virus closed everything down,’’ he noted.

‘’At that meeting, we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz together in Jerusalem, Auschwitz and Berlin. For me, as the president of Germany, those were such moving moments that will always remain in my memory. During the last year, we have continued to draw lessons from the past, even when we have not met. In particular, we have spoken about fighting antisemitism, xenophobia and racism.’’

Steinmeier congratulated President Rivlin on Israel’s vaccination drive ‘’that has been seen here in Germany with great appreciation and respect, not only because of its speed but also because of the efficiency of the process.’’

He added: ‘’Since our last conversations, many things have changed. Israel has signed normalization agreements with many neighbors and I see these agreements as nothing less than historic. The president and his delegation presented us with their concerns about the continued nuclear arming of Iran, as well as its missile program. The previous American administration’s policy did not, we believe, support positive developments and we hope that we can bring about change in the future with the new administration and our European neighbors.’’

On Wednesday and Thursday, President Rivlin and the IDF Chief of Staff will travel to Austria and France for meetings with the two leaders of the two countries, Alexander Van der Bellen and Emmanuel Macron.


Germany’s Merkel urges pragmatic approach to Northern Ireland




German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) called on Saturday for a “pragmatic solution” to disagreements over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, Reuters Read more.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, threatening emergency measures if no solution was found.

The EU has to defend its common market, Merkel said, but on technical questions there could be a way forward in the dispute, she told a news conference during a Group of Seven leaders' summit.

"I have said that I favour a pragmatic solution for contractual agreements, because a cordial relationship is of utmost significance for Britain and the European Union," she said.

Referring to a conversation she had with U.S. President Joe Biden about geopolitical issues, Merkel said they agreed that Ukraine must continue to remain a transit country for Russian natural gas once Moscow completes the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

The $11 billion pipeline will carry gas to Germany directly, something Washington fears could undermine Ukraine and increase Russia's influence over Europe.

Biden and Merkel are due to meet in Washington on July 15, and the strain on bilateral ties caused by the project will be on the agenda.

The G7 sought on Saturday to counter China's growing influence by offering developing nations an infrastructure plan that would rival President Xi Jinping's multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. L5N2NU045

Asked about the plan, Merkel said the G7 was not yet ready to specify how much financing could be made available.

“Our financing instruments often are not as quickly available as developing countries need them,” she said

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German archbishop offers to resign over Church’s sexual abuse ‘catastrophe’




One of Roman Catholicism’s most influential liberal figures, Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx (pictured), has offered to resign as archbishop of Munich, saying he had to share responsibility for the “catastrophe” of sexual abuse by clerics over past decades, write Thomas Escritt and Philip Pullella.

His offer, which Pope Francis has yet to accept, follows an uproar among the German faithful over abuse. Last week, the pope sent two senior foreign bishops to investigate the Archdiocese of Cologne, Germany’s largest, over its handling of abuse cases.

"I have to share responsibility for the catastrophe of sexual abuse by officials of the Church over past decades," Marx wrote in a letter to the pope. He said he hoped his departure would create space for a new beginning.

Marx, who is not under any suspicion of having participated in abuse or cover-ups, later told reporters churchmen had to take personal responsibility for institutional failings.

An independent inquiry commissioned from a law firm by the archdiocese to investigate historic abuse allegations there is due to report shortly.

The Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, was recently cleared in a similar external investigation into past abuse in his archdiocese.

One commentator, the religious scholar Thomas Schueller, interpreted Marx's words as a rebuke of Woelki, who has not resigned.

"He is directly challenging Cardinal Woelki when he talks of those who hide behind legal assessments and aren't prepared to tackle the systemic causes of sexualised violence in the Church with bold reforms," he told Der Spiegel.

Marx is a proponent of the "Synodal Path," a movement that aims to give lay Catholics more influence over the running of the Church and in issues including appointment of bishops, sexual morality, priestly celibacy and women's ordination.

Conservatives have attacked the concept, saying it could lead to a schism.

Marx, 67, who until last year was head of the German Catholic Church, told reporters he had sent the letter on May 21, but that it was only last week that the Pope had e-mailed him to say he could make it public.

The last few years have seen an accelerating exodus, with liberal faithful queuing in Cologne to quit the Church, protesting not only at abuse but also over conservative attitudes toward same-sex relationships.

Germany's Church has an outsized influence globally, in part because of its wealth: taxes paid by members and collected by the government make it the world's richest.

The pope, who is known to like Marx, typically waits, sometimes months, before deciding whether to accept a bishop's resignation.

Marx told the Pope he would continue to serve the Church in any capacity he was ordered to.

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Counter inflation with rate hike, Bavarian minister urges ECB




Higher inflation is compounding the plight of savers and the European Central Bank should respond by raising its interest rates from 0%, Bavaria's finance minister, Albert Fueracker (pictured), told daily Bild in comments published on Wednesday (2 June).

Germany's annual consumer price inflation accelerated in May, advancing further above the ECB's target of close to but below 2%, the Federal Statistics Office said on Monday.

Consumer prices, harmonised to make them comparable with inflation data from other European Union countries, rose by 2.4% in May, up from 2.1% in April.

"Germany is a country of savers. The ECB's longstanding zero interest rate policy is poison for typical savings plans," Fueracker, a member of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), told the mass-selling daily newspaper.

"In combination with the now rising inflation, the expropriation for savers is becoming more and more noticeable. Bavaria has been warning for years that the zero interest rate policy must be ended - now it is high time," he added.

Conservative Germans have long complained that the ECB's 0% interest rates hurt savers as they are left with little if any gain - a problem compounded by rising inflation eroding the value of their nest eggs.

Monday's price figures for May showed a national measure of inflation rose to 2.5%, the highest level since 2011.

Under the headline "Inflation is eating up our savings", Bild ran a separate story warning: "Germany's workers, pensioners and savers in fear because of high inflation!"

On Tuesday, the German federal government's economy minister, Peter Altmaier, said he was "watching this development with inflation very closely" but could not pass judgment on it yet.

Germans vote in a federal election on Sept. 26. So far, inflation has not gained traction as a campaign issue, but it is likely to exceed 3% later this year as a tax hike and statistical effects add to price pressures. Read more

Already the biggest critics of ECB policy, some conservative Germans fear that the central bank is excessively complacent about inflation and its easy money policy could herald a new period of higher prices.

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