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Israel's top diplomat touts normalization over annexation

German FM tells Ashkenazi efforts underway to keep Iran arms ban

Hosting Israeli foreign minister, Heiko Maas says he backs nuclear deal, but UN needs diplomatic solution to find middle ground between US and Russia on weapons embargo

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, left, and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi bump elbows as they meet at the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, August 27, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Pool Photo via AP)
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, left, and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi bump elbows as they meet at the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, August 27, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Pool Photo via AP)

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas agreed with his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi on Thursday that an effort must be made to extend an arms embargo on Iran, while stressing that Germany still sees the landmark 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers as the best way to prevent the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

With a current UN arms embargo on Iran due to expire on October 18, Ashkenazi told reporters in Berlin that an extension was needed to prevent Iran from getting “more advanced weapons systems and spreading them around the Middle East.”

“We would like to see the European countries, not just Germany, preventing it,” he said. “It’s not helpful for the stability of the region.”

Ashkenazi was in Berlin to attend a two-day meeting of European foreign ministers at the invitation of Germany, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.

The United States wants a full extension of the embargo on Iran, which would almost certainly be vetoed by Russia and China in the UN Security Council, Maas said.

Germany and others are currently trying to find some middle ground that would meet with Russian and Chinese approval — and not be vetoed by the US in the Security Council.

“We are trying to reach a diplomatic solution so that there will be an arms embargo on Iran in the future,” Maas said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R) and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi attend a news conference in front of the Liebermann Villa at the Wannsee lake in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Pool Photo via AP)

At the same time, he said Germany still sees the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed with Iran in 2015, promising the country economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, as the best way to prevent the country from developing an atomic weapon.

Israel is against the deal, and the US pulled out unilaterally in 2018, leaving the others involved — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China — struggling to keep it alive.

Maas said concerns outside the JCPOA, like Iran’s ballistic missile program and influence in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, need to be addressed, but that “we want to preserve the JCPOA to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

“Iran must change its approach in the region, we are not naive about Iran,” he said. “We know that Iran plays a dangerous role.”

The two ministers met at the House of the Wannsee Conference memorial, a villa in southwestern Berlin where senior Nazis and bureaucrats coordinated plans for the Holocaust in 1942.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media at a news conference in front of the Liebermann Villa at the Wannsee lake in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Pool Photo via AP)

Ashkenazi said that as the son of a Holocaust survivor, it was particularly emotional for him to visit the place where the “evil and cruelness” of the genocide of 6 million Jews was plotted.

Maas said anti-Semitism still exists in Germany today, and the memorial serves as a reminder that “we should fight it with available means.”

Ashkenazi also commented on the US-brokered agreement for Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize diplomatic ties in exchange for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shelving plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

“I think it’s very clear and it’s very tangible that Israeli government policy moved from annexation to normalization. I think that’s an opening,” Ashkenazi said. “As I mentioned, we left the door open for our neighbors. Now it’s up to their decision and their choice to join.”

He added that the agreement with with UAE was “a very strong demonstration that only through dialogue and negotiation we can make progress.”

Ashkenazi’s comments on annexation enraged the Likud party, which has insisted that Israel’s agreement to hold off on the controversial move is only temporary.

“He knew nothing about the historic peace agreement with the UAE, so his remarks are irrelevant,” a Likud official said in a statement sent to several news outlets.

“The attempt by Ashkenazi and his friends to pretend as if Blue and White had brought about this historic peace agreement with the UAE and the unprecedented turnaround in Israel’s status in the region is ridiculous,” the official added.

The Foreign Minister’s visit to Germany came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed home after a whirlwind Middle East tour during which he sought to encourage Arab nations to follow the UAE and recognize Israel.

However, he apparently left empty-handed after stops in Bahrain, Oman and Sudan failed to net any public commitments to follow Abu Dhabi in normalizing ties with the Jewish state.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, meets United Arab Emirates national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan at Al-Shati Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, August 26, 2020. (Rashed al-Mansoori/Ministry of Presidential Affairs/WAM via AP)

The US chief diplomat had said he was hopeful other nations would follow the UAE, which became only the third Arab country to establish relations with the Jewish state, after Egypt and Jordan.

However, Sudan’s transitional government on Tuesday dashed hopes for a speedy breakthrough, saying it has “no mandate” to take such a weighty step.

And Bahrain echoed the sentiments of its ally, regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, that an accord with Israel would not materialize without the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

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