German FM urges Palestinians ‘not to tear down bridges’
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German FM urges Palestinians ‘not to tear down bridges’

On Israel and West Bank visit, Heiko Mass says peace talks without the US ‘would be difficult’; acknowledges differences with Israel, Trump on Iran deal

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, shakes hands with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas during their meeting, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 26, 2018.(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, shakes hands with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas during their meeting, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 26, 2018.(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Germany’s new foreign minister on Monday urged the Palestinians “not to tear down bridges,” an apparent reference to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s contentious relationship with the US.

Heiko Mass also acknowledged differences with Israel about the international community’s nuclear deal with Iran, but gave no commitment to altering the deal ahead of a mid-May deadline set by US President Donald Trump.

Mass was on his first trip to the Middle East since becoming foreign minister earlier this month.

Meeting Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, he said the new German government remains committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves part of an Iranian drone downed in Israeli airspace, during a speech on the third day of the 54th Munich Security Conference (MSC) held at the Bayerischer Hof hotel, in Munich, southern Germany, on February 18, 2018. (Screen capture)

The Trump administration has refused to make such a commitment. In December, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prompting Abbas to rule out the US as a future Mideast broker.

Maas said Monday that peace efforts without the US “would be difficult.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu meets with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, March 26, 2018. (GPO/ Kobi Gideon)

Later, in Jerusalem, Maas professed his country’s friendship with Israel, despite differences over the two-state solution, which Netanyahu no longer endorses, and the Iranian nuclear issue.

“Our views differ, but first and foremost we are friends,” he said. “We want to hear from our friends their concerns and fears, and therefore I have come here.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas lay a wreath during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance in the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, during his official state visit in Israel. March 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu has been an outspoken critic of the 2015 nuclear deal, and urged the international community to “fix it or nix it.” He says the deal does not have sufficient safeguards to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Given Trump’s mid-May deadline, US negotiators have been working with Britain, France, and Germany on a follow-on pact that would address Trump’s three major complaints. Trump wants to penalize Iran for ballistic missiles, which were not part of the original deal. He also wants to expand access for international nuclear inspectors and prolong the limits on Iran’s nuclear activity, currently scheduled to expire in several years.

Maas has said he was profoundly affected by the Holocaust, and his agenda included a meeting with Israeli Holocaust survivors and a visit to Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.

“As a German, this was a very moving visit,” he said, professing his opposition to anti-Semitism and praising the warm welcome that he received. “I am moved as if I have received a gift that I do not deserve.”

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