German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that a new nuclear agreement with Iran “cannot be postponed any longer” as he paid a lightning visit to Israel on Wednesday.
“What we would like to see is that an agreement is reached in Vienna,” Scholz said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem.
“Now is the time to make a decision. This must not be postponed any longer and cannot be postponed any longer,” the German chancellor added.
Scholz met Bennett one-on-one Wednesday morning, in his first visit to Israel since replacing long-serving former chancellor Angela Merkel in December. The visit was planned well before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered the greatest European security crisis in decades, but went ahead regardless.
Israel has criticized Western powers for negotiating a deal with Iran to constrain its nuclear program, saying that any potential agreement is unlikely to ensure Israeli security.
Addressing his German counterpart, Bennett said: “We also have a responsibility to make sure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons, and that there will be no possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons — not on our watch or ever.”
“We are following with concern the talks in Vienna, and the possibility that an agreement will be signed that will allow Iran to install centrifuges on a large scale within a few years is not acceptable to us,” Bennett added.
Scholz said he also discussed the ongoing developments in Ukraine with the Israeli premier during his visit to Israel. The Russian invasion entered its seventh day on Wednesday; hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the country and the Russian military has shelled major Ukrainian cities.
“We are extremely worried about the further course of the conflict. I want to repeat my call for all military action to stop immediately. Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure must cease. And of course, it’s now about giving diplomacy a big opportunity again,” Scholz said.
On Saturday, Germany broke with a decades-long principle not to supply arms to war zones and decided to provide Ukraine with 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 surface-to-air missiles.
Scholz addressed the policy reversal in a statement to the German parliament on Monday.
“We need to support Ukraine in its hour of desperate need,” said the chancellor. “There was no other response possible to Putin’s aggression.”
By contrast, Israel has sought to tread a fine line: siding with its Western allies while avoiding a rift with Moscow. Russian forces control the airspace in neighboring Syria, where Israeli planes often operate against militias affiliated with Iran.
“The State of Israel stands with the people of Ukraine,” Bennett said alongside Scholz, without mentioning or condemning Russia.
Scholz declined to respond when an Israeli reporter asked for his stance on Israel’s cautious approach to the Russian invasion, skipping to the next question.
Although the German chancellor deemed the ongoing war a “dangerous situation,” he emphasized that Western support would not turn hot.
“We will not get militarily involved. That is true for NATO — they will not do so — and for others. That would be the wrong decision in this situation. But we will provide support…This is the decision that we have made,” said Scholz.
Scholz said that he decided to make the trip despite the global crisis, saying that Germany values its ongoing “strategic dialogue” with Israel.
“Germany will always stand fast by Israel’s side,” Scholz said.
Earlier in the day, Scholz visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. Scholz wrote a message in the visitor’s log emphasizing what he called Germany’s “ongoing responsibility” for Israeli security due to the genocide.
“The crime against humanity that is the Shoah granted humanity a glimpse into the abyss. The mass murder against Jews was instigated by Germany. It was planned and executed by Germans. From this arises an everlasting responsibility of every German government for the safety of the State of Israel and the protection of Jewish life. We will never forget the millionfold suffering and the victims!” Scholz wrote.