Israel open to German efforts to expand Iran nuclear deal with more restrictions

Ambassador Issacharoff says call by Germany’s foreign minister to redraw 2015 pact so it limits ballistic missiles and Tehran’s regional interference is ‘step in right direction’

Israel's ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff poses in front of a giant Menora set up for the Jewish Hanukka Festival of Lights in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, prior to an interview with AFP on December 17, 2020. (John MACDOUGALL/AFP)
Israel's ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff poses in front of a giant Menora set up for the Jewish Hanukka Festival of Lights in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, prior to an interview with AFP on December 17, 2020. (John MACDOUGALL/AFP)

BERLIN, Germnay (AFP) — Israel welcomes a German push to expand the Iran nuclear deal into a broader security agreement once Joe Biden moves into the White House next month, its ambassador to Berlin told AFP.

Jeremy Issacharoff, the nation’s envoy in Germany since 2017, said a recent call by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to reassess the 2015 nuclear accord with a new US administration was a “step in the right direction.”

The 2015 nuclear deal — known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Maas told Der Spiegel magazine this month that the existing agreement, under massive pressure after repeated Iranian violations and Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal in 2018, needed an overhaul.

The “nuclear agreement plus” envisaged by Maas would bar the development of nuclear weapons as well as place restrictions on Tehran’s ballistic rocket program and interference in countries around the region.

Heiko Maas, German Foreign Minister, puts on his face mask at the end of the press conference in Berlin, Germany, December 21, 2020. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

Biden has signaled that Washington could rejoin the deal as a starting point for follow-on negotiations if Iran returned to compliance.

But Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected talk of reopening the accord struck five years ago after marathon talks involving the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

‘Triangular’ partnership

Issacharoff said the so-called 5+1 partners needed to take Iran’s “destabilizing involvement” in countries including Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq into account in any further negotiations with Tehran.

“I think people need to realize that you can’t just turn the clock back to 2015,” he said.

“There’s been a production of missiles and testing of missiles and these issues need to be addressed as well as the wholesale violations that Iran has carried out against the whole JCPOA agreement.”

Issacharoff said he welcomed more active involvement of Germany in Middle East diplomacy and the now robust “strategic partnership” that had developed in the 70 years since the Holocaust.

Anticipating a vast improvement in “tone” between Germany and the US with Biden at the helm, he said Israel would like to see more of “a triangular type of strategic partnership” with the two countries on Middle East security issues “which I think would be very good for all sides.”

‘The most important partnership’

He said it was Germany’s firm commitment to atone for Nazi atrocities that had allowed relations with Israel to flourish since the countries officially established diplomatic relations in 1965.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivers a speech during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020. (ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)

Issacharoff highlighted “moving” visits by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to both the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and Auschwitz this year and joint military exercises in August between Israeli and German fighter pilots.

“From defense issues to culture, people-to-people engagements, economy, cyber, intelligence — I can only see this as a partnership which is evolving and becoming one of, I’d say probably the most important partnership for Israel clearly in Europe but even in global terms.”

Issacharoff said that as ties between Israel and four Arab nations — Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan — normalize in deals brokered by Donald Trump’s administration, Germany had played a constructive role as well.

Noting that Maas had hosted the first meeting between his Israeli and Emirati counterparts in October, Issacharoff called it “a very important step for Germany and a very important sign of its commitment to the process.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the parliament Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, December 16, 2020. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

He credited Maas and in particular Chancellor Angela Merkel, who plans to retire from politics next year after 16 years in power, with fostering deep and trusting relations with Israel despite their painful shared history.

“It’s important to recognize her incredible contribution to the strength of the relationship,” he said, hoping the commitment would “persist in German foreign policy.”

“I am very encouraged and very inspired by how far two countries can go after such a difficult period of time and become so close.”

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