Lapid heads to Germany for top-level meetings on Iran, bilateral cooperation

PM has said he’ll coordinate stance on nuclear deal with Chancellor Scholz; will also meet German president alongside Holocaust survivors, sit down with local foreign minister

Prime Minister Yair Lapid boards a plane at Ben Gurion Airport taking him to Berlin, Germany, on September 11, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid boards a plane at Ben Gurion Airport taking him to Berlin, Germany, on September 11, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid departed Sunday for Germany for a series of top-level meetings in which he will present Israel’s latest case against signing a renewed nuclear deal with Iran.

Lapid took off from Ben Gurion Airport for Berlin, where he will meet Monday with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Steinmeier and Lapid will also meet at the House of the Wannsee Conference with Holocaust survivors who are flying with the prime minister.

Iran’s nuclear program will top the agenda, with the two sides also set to discuss bilateral ties, Israel-EU relations, energy security and the war in Ukraine. An agreement on a youth student exchange will also be announced during the trip.

On Sunday morning, Lapid said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting that the purpose of the visit “is to coordinate positions on the [Iranian] nuclear program and finalize the details on a strategic, economic and security cooperation document, which we are about to sign with them.”

Lapid also thanked Germany, France and the United Kingdom for issuing a statement a day earlier expressing “serious doubts” over Iran’s sincerity in seeking a nuclear agreement.

European mediators last month appeared to make progress in restoring the 2015 nuclear accord as Iran largely agreed to a proposed final text. But chances dimmed when the United States sent a reply, to which Iran in turn responded with a fresh demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency close its investigation into several undeclared nuclear sites.

“This latest demand raises serious doubts as to Iran’s intentions and commitment to a successful outcome on the JCPOA,” France, Germany and Britain said in a joint statement on Saturday, using the acronym for the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The European powers said that the final package put to Tehran had taken the European powers “to the limit of their flexibility.”

Then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) meets with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Jerusalem, March 2, 2022. (GPO)

“Unfortunately, Iran has chosen not to seize this critical diplomatic opportunity,” they said, assessing that “instead, Iran continues to escalate its nuclear program way beyond any plausible civilian justification.”

Iran’s foreign ministry described the European statement as “unconstructive” and “regrettable.”

Related: Exclusive – Nuclear deal with Iran off the table for time being, US has indicated to Israel

In his Sunday remarks, Lapid said: “I thank France, Great Britain and Germany for their firm position on the issue. In recent months we have had a quiet and intense dialogue with them, and they were presented with up-to-date intelligence information on Iranian activity at the nuclear sites.”

The premier said he was working alongside Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in “a successful diplomatic campaign to stop the nuclear agreement and prevent the lifting of sanctions on Iran.”

“It is not over yet. There is a long road ahead, but there are encouraging signs,” Lapid said.

In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line the hall damaged on April 11, 2021, at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP, File)

On Sunday morning, a senior Israeli official said Israel does not believe that Iran and world powers will return to their nuclear deal before the November midterm elections in the US.

In 2018, then-US president Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal and began reimposing biting sanctions, prompting Tehran to publicly roll back on its commitments under the agreement.

US President Joe Biden favors restoring the deal. Under the proposed agreement, Iran would enjoy sanctions relief and again be able to sell its oil worldwide in return for tough restrictions on its nuclear program.

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