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Rivlin, IDF chief to visit 3 European countries to discuss Iran threat

Presidents of Germany, France, and Austria invite Israeli counterpart for meetings about Tehran’s nuclear program, ICC war crimes probe

President Reuven Rivlin shakes hands with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on January 22, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin shakes hands with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on January 22, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin will travel to Germany, France, and Austria next week to speak to their presidents about the growing threat from Iran’s nuclear program and the International Criminal Court’s decision to open a probe into alleged war crimes by Israel and Palestinian terror groups.

Rivlin was invited by the presidents, his office said in a statement Thursday. He will be accompanied by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, who will brief the European presidents on security matters.

They will discuss the “intensification” of Iran’s nuclear project, the International Criminal Court’s decision, and the danger of the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah’s growing power, the statement said.

Rivlin has previously met with all three of the presidents in Jerusalem.

The three-day trip comes as the UN’s nuclear watchdog is working to save a 2015 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.

President Reuven Rivlin greets Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen (R) at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on January 22, 2019. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

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 was condemned by top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who called the decision “undiluted anti-Semitism and the height of hypocrisy.”

Rivlin will leave on March 16 to meet German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin.

The following day he will head to Vienna for a meeting with President Alexander Van der Bellen of Austria. While in the country he will also deliver remarks at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony at the memorial for Jewish Austrians, the statement from his office said.

On Thursday, the last day of his trip, Rivlin will head to Paris to meet France’s President Emmanuel Macron before returning to Israel.

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and President Reuven Rivlin at a press conference in Jerusalem on January 22, 2020. (Jacques Witt/Pool/AFP)

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.

On Thursday, Israeli and US officials were to hold the first session of a bilateral strategic group aimed at collaborating in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

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