In Germany, Rivlin says he trusts Europe will ‘stand by us’ against ICC probe

President tells his German counterpart that Iran using ‘nuclear blackmail’ to have sanctions removed; IDF chief: ‘We do everything’ to avoid harming innocents

President Reuven Rivlin (L) and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier meet in Berlin on March 16, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin (L) and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier meet in Berlin on March 16, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday met in Berlin with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, kicking off a European tour aimed at underscoring the threat from Iran’s nuclear program and rallying opposition to the International Criminal Court’s decision to probe alleged war crimes by Israel and Palestinian terror groups.

During their meeting, Rivlin thanked Steinmeier for “his commitment to further deepening relations between the countries” and Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security. He called the ICC probe of Israel a “scandalous” decision and thanked Germany for opposing the investigation.

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced earlier this month that she was opening an investigation into actions committed by Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem since 2014. The Palestinians have already said they will cooperate with the probe by the Hague-based court. Israel has yet to decide how it will respond but the decision to open an investigation has been condemned by top Israeli officials.

“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 president said, according to a statement from his office.

He said Palestinian efforts to litigate the conflict would not help resolve it.

“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,” Rivlin said.

Seated from left to right: IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, President Reuven and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in Berlin on March 16, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

He also addressed the ICC decision during a joint press conference he gave with Steinmeier.

“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,” he said.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, who accompanied Rivlin on the trip, said Israeli soldiers “do everything” to avoid harming innocent civilians.

“The fundamental difference between us and our enemies is that while we do everything we can to prevent harming innocent civilians, our enemies do everything they can to harm our civilians, who are entirely innocent. We are in a new era of warfare, which is highly complex, and the ICC must adapt itself to the new reality,” Kohavi was quoted as saying during the meeting.

He also told Steinmeier, “your soldiers could face the same problems in other parts of the world, and so your support now is very important for us.”

Chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda at the opening of the court’s judicial year with a Special Session at the seat of the court in The Hague, January 23, 2020. (courtesy ICC)

Turning to Iran, Rivlin accused the Islamic Republic of using “nuclear blackmail” to achieve a removal of sanctions.

“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,” he said during the press conference.

Steinmeier, meanwhile, called Israel’s recent normalization deals with Arab countries “nothing less than historic” while noting Israeli concerns over Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

“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,” the German president said.

He also congratulated Rivlin on the “speed” and “efficiency” of Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination drive and said Germany “can learn a great deal from it.”

Rivlin and Kohavi met later with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, with the president warning him against a return to the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. They also discussed strengthening bilateral ties and Germany’s “markedly improved voting record” at international organizations, according to a statement from the President’s Residence.

“Your true friendship for us is expressed not only in words, but also in deeds,” Rivlin was quoted as telling Maas.

Following his visit to Germany, Rivlin was scheduled to travel to Austria and France to meet with their respective presidents.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, right, meets with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, during the 56th Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 15, 2020. (Thomas Kienzle/Pool via AP)

The three-day trip comes as the UN’s nuclear watchdog is working to save the agreement between world powers and Iran that has unraveled ever since former US president Donald Trump pulled out of it in 2018. Germany and France are both signatories to the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs to its nuclear program.

After its withdrawal from the pact, the US reapplied strict sanctions on Iran, which responded by stepping away from its own commitments to the deal, in particular by ramping up uranium enrichment, a key process in producing a nuclear weapon.

US President Joe Biden and his administration have repeatedly said they will return to the JCPOA if Tehran first returns to compliance. Iran has insisted the US remove sanctions before it returns to the deal’s terms, putting the two sides at a stalemate.

In recent months, Iran has repeatedly taken steps to violate the deal and turn up the heat on the US, including by enriching uranium past the accord’s limits and barring UN inspections of its nuclear facilities.

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