Visiting Jordan, Merkel calls for countering ‘Iranian aggression’

German leader says Europe concerned over Tehran’s missile program and its presence in Syria, which threatens Israel, Jordan

Jordanian King Abdullah II (left) welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Jordanian Royal Palace in Amman on June 21, 2018.  (AFP PHOTO / Khalil MAZRAAWI)
Jordanian King Abdullah II (left) welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Jordanian Royal Palace in Amman on June 21, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Khalil MAZRAAWI)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday told Jordan’s King Abdullah II that Europe must find ways to counter Iranian moves in the Middle East, including its missile development program and its military presence in Syria, which, she said, is a threat to both Jordan and Israel.

“Iran’s aggressive tendencies must not only be discussed, but rather we need solutions urgently,” Merkel said after meeting Abdullah in Amman, according to a Reuters.

“You live not just with the Syria conflict, but also we see Iran’s activities with regard to Israel’s security and with regard to Jordan’s border,” Merkel said of Iran’s military support for the Syrian regime’s bid to quell an eight-year insurgency.

Merkel also noted that although European countries want to maintain a landmark 2015 nuclear deal that lifted heavy economic sanctions from Iran in return for curbs on the weapons-capable aspects of its nuclear program, they remain alarmed at Tehran’s missile program.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Europe earlier this month with the aim of impressing on the leaders of Germany, France and Britain his concerns over Iran’s continued nuclear research and its regional activities. Israel says Iran is working to establish forward bases in Syria in order to attack the Jewish state.

In this Dec. 29, 2016 file photo, released by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), a long-range S-200 missile is fired in a military drill in the port city of Bushehr, on the northern coast of Persian Gulf, Iran. (Amir Kholousi, ISNA via AP, File)

Iran routinely says its ballistic missile program is only for defensive purposes against regional adversaries, and that it will not develop weapons with a range beyond 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles). With that range, the missiles can hit American bases in the region and Israel.

Although there are no restrictions in place on the range of Iranian missiles, US President Donald Trump had insisted that limitations be placed on Tehran’s missile program as a prerequisite for Washington remaining in the nuclear deal. He ultimately pulled out of it on May 12, threatening the collapse of the agreement as the US geared up to introduce severe sanctions that are expected to limit the ability of European countries to trade with Iran.

The New York Times reported last month that weapons researchers have identified activity at a remote secret facility in the Iranian desert that points to the covert development of long-range missiles that could be used to attack the United States.

Merkel’s meeting with the Jordanian king also came as Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, and senior White House official Jared Kushner toured the Middle East, where they are discussing US efforts to put forward an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan with allies in the region.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive at a press conference after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on June 4, 2018. (Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

On Tuesday, the two met with Abdullah and on Wednesday with Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Greenblatt and Kushner are also expected to visit Qatar, Israel and Egypt in the coming days. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled.

US officials have said their plan is near completion and could be released this summer. But they face resistance from the Palestinians, who have cut off ties since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, and then moved the US embassy there in May.

The Trump administration’s peace initiative reportedly includes raising some $500 million from Arab states to alleviate the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. According to the daily Haaretz, which first reported on the funding drive, the money would be used to develop an industrial area in the northern Sinai, which abuts Gaza, including a power station and factories to serve the residents of the Palestinian enclave.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (second left) and US President Donald Trump’s special envoys Jason Greenblatt (left) and Jared Kushner (center) meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the PMO in Jerusalem, June 21, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

The US is trying to convince moderate Arab allies to put pressure on the Palestinians to negotiate on the basis of the US peace proposal.

During their meeting on Thursday, Abdullah told Merkel that it would be impossible to broker a peace agreement that does not lead to a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, Reuters reported.

Earlier this week, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the US peace push and the reported fundraising effort as an attempt to further separate the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In response, Greenblatt blasted the Palestinians, accusing them of “hypocrisy” for rejecting the US aid “instead of acknowledging that we are trying to help the Palestinians in Gaza.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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