Germany’s foreign minister on Wednesday welcomed his Iranian counterpart for a bilateral meeting in Berlin, seemingly defying Chancellor Angela Merkel’s earlier commitment to not normalize relations with Tehran as long as the regime refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier hosted Mohammad Javad Zarif at a castle belonging to the Foreign Ministry outside Berlin, in what marked the first time Germany hosted the Iranian top diplomat for bilateral talks.
According to Germany’s Foreign Ministry, the two men discussed Iranian-German relations, regional issues such as the civil war in Syria, and the implementation of the nuclear deal six world powers struck with Iran last year. After their discussion, Steinmeier hosted Zarif at an iftar dinner to break the fast of Ramadan at Villa Borsig.
“We had good discussions, discussions that aren’t easy but necessary as we undertake to renew our relations,” Steinmeier said at a joint press conference. “We can build on a good and long history of German-Iranian relations. And I can say for Germany: We want the renewal of these relations in their entire range: politically and economically, but also culturally and between societies.”
Steinmeier, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party, further said the manner in which the decade-long nuclear standoff between the West and Tehran was solved diplomatically could serve as an example for efforts to tackle current crises in the Middle East.
“It’s wrong to think that the nuclear agreement with Iran is the only relevant aspect regarding the relations with this country,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel on Thursday. “One cannot ignore Iran’s negative behavior regarding human rights, support of terrorism, and its public calls for the destruction of Israel.”
Any opening toward Iran without a “firm request to change its behavior” signals to the regime that “it’s business as usual and that there’s no need to change anything,” Nahshon stressed, adding, however, that Berlin understood that position. “The German authorities have conveyed to Israel that there would be no normalization in their relations with Iran as long as there is no significant change in the Iranian position vis-a-vis Israel.”
A German diplomat in Berlin told The Times of Israel: “There is no contradiction between working to build relations and recognizing that conditions for full normalization do not yet exist.”
At a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during his visit to Berlin in February, The Times of Israel asked Merkel about the apparent rush by Germany to rebuild relations with the regime in Tehran. The chancellor replied: “We made very clear — the federal government, all parties that make up the coalition — that there cannot exist normal, friendly relations with Iran as long as Iran doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
Steinmeier himself has invoked the importance of Iran recognizing Israel’s right to exist during an October 2015 trip to Tehran. “With Iran’s political influence in the region comes great responsibility for finding solutions that serve the interest of the people [in the region]. In our view, this must include a commitment to peaceful coexistence with all its neighbors, including Israel,” he said in an interview at the time.