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.
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. https://www.youtube.com/embed/tjmlWNUETYs?feature=oembed
China-EU relations face challenges, Xi tells Germany's Merkel
President Xi Jinping told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday (7 April) that he saw “various challenges” in relations between China and the European Union and hoped the EU could “independently” make correct judgements, a Chinese government statement said, writes Michael Nienaber in Berlin.
The statement quoted Xi as saying during a phone call that the EU and China should respect each other and “eliminate interference”, adding that China is willing to work with the global community to promote “fair and reasonable distribution” of COVID-19 vaccines and opposes vaccine nationalism.
Last month, the EU imposed its first significant sanctions against Chinese officials since 1989 over alleged human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region. Beijing, which denies the allegations, hit back by blacklisting some EU lawmakers and entities.
The United States, Britain and Canada also sanctioned Chinese officials over Xinjiang, and the row threatens to derail an EU-China investment pact agreed in late 2020 after years of negotiations.
German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said Merkel and Xi had discussed international efforts to produce and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, deepen economic cooperation and steps to protect the climate and biodiversity.
She said the leaders agreed to deepen bilateral ties in Sino-German government consultations planned for late April.
“The Chancellor stressed the importance of dialogue on the full range of ties, including issues on which there are different opinions,” Demmer said, without giving details of the areas where Germany and China differ.
Merkel backs tougher COVID lockdown in Germany
Chancellor Angela Merkel supports demands for a short, tough lockdown in Germany to curb the spread of the coronavirus as infection rates are too high, a German government spokeswoman said, write Andreas Rinke and Madeline Chambers.
Germany is struggling to tackle a third wave of the pandemic and several regional leaders have called for a short, sharp lockdown while the country tries to vaccinate more people.
“Every call for a short, uniform lockdown is right,” deputy government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told reporters, adding Germany was seeing a growing number of intensive care patients.
“We need a stable incidence below 100,” she said, referring to the number of cases over seven days per 100,000 inhabitants. It is currently 110.1, according to the Robert Koch Institute.
She also said that the government was looking at whether nationwide, rather than regional, measures were needed.
“The range of regulations does not help acceptance,” said Demmer. While some states have imposed night-time curfews over Easter, others are experimenting with some easing of restrictions.
The majority of Germany’s 16 federal state premiers was against bringing forward talks scheduled for 12 April on what action to take.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 9,677 on Wednesday to more than 2.9 million, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases said. It has warned that the numbers may not yet show the full picture as not all cases were registered over Easter. Some 77,401 people have died.
German CDU chairman calls for harder lockdown measures
Armin Laschet, chairman of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and her would-be successor as chancellor, said on Monday (5 April) that Germany needed harder lockdown measures to break a rise in coronavirus infections, write Holger Hansen and Tom Sims.
Germany, despite months of restrictions, has seen a rise in infections as it lags Britain, Israel and the United States in the pace of vaccinations.
The statements by Laschet, premier of Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, follow comments over the weekend from another prominent politician who called for a shorter and even harder lockdown.
Laschet, speaking at a vaccination center in Aachen, said Germany must create a lockdown that bridges the time until immunizations can make a difference.
“We are very close to the goal. For the last meters we need an extra effort and that’s what I’m calling for today,” he said.
Laschet called for fewer private contacts, which could require curfews at night, and for more people to work from home.
He said that a meeting planned for April 12 among the premiers of German states and the federal government should take place this week instead.
Germany will have immunized 20% of its population against the novel coronavirus by the beginning of May, health minister Jens Spahn said on Monday.
Spahn, speaking at a vaccination centre in Berlin, said Germany had taken three months to get shots to the first 10% of its people who have now been vaccinated.
“We will manage the next 10% in a month in light of the expected deliveries (of vaccinations),” he said.
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