(photo credit: AP)
Jerusalem is miffed that Berlin is providing government loan guarantees worth millions of dollars to German firms doing business with Iran, and this is one of the issues Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will bring up Tuesday during talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Olmert is scheduled to leave Monday afternoon for a three-day visit to Berlin and Rome, which will include a brief visit Wednesday to the Vatican and the first meeting of an Israeli prime minister with Pope Benedict XVI.
In recent days there has been talk in Jerusalem of a German "double standard" regarding Iran - on the one hand working with France and Britain in the so-called EU3 to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, yet on the other hand facilitating "humongous" German trade with Iran.
Olmert, according to sources in Jerusalem, "wants to see more from Germany regarding Iran," and believes it has a moral responsibility to do more. Olmert will make it clear, the sources said, that he believes Germany has a special responsibility not only to stand up and talk against Iranian nuclear ambitions, but to take action as well.
Olmert's trip to Germany and Italy, originally planned for last July but postponed because of the war in Lebanon, comes a day before a meeting of the European Council in Brussels where the heads of the EU states are expected to deal with Middle East diplomacy and talk about a new Spanish diplomatic initiative.
Sources in Jerusalem said that Olmert and Merkel see eye-to-eye on this issue, and that this is not the time to float new initiatives that may be seen as coming to supplant the road map. The visit also comes on the eve of Germany taking over the rotating presidency of the EU, with diplomatic sources in Jerusalem having difficulty concealing their satisfaction that this mantle is passing from Finland to Germany.
For the next six months Germany will play a pivotal role in setting EU policy, the sources said, and it is important to sit face-to face with Merkel and discuss the issues. Olmert, who hosted Merkel in Jerusalem shortly after the Hamas victory in January, is expected to press Merkel to ensure that the EU not back down from the three criteria it has adopted for recognizing the PA government - recognizing Israel's right to exist, forswearing terrorism, and accepting previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
While there are some voices in Europe calling for flexibility regarding these conditions, these calls are not coming from Germany, and Merkel was one of the first leaders during her visit to Jerusalem to support setting these benchmarks.
In addition to meeting Merkel, Olmert is scheduled to attend a ceremony at a memorial to Jews deported to concentration camps in Berlin, as well as meet with German President Horst K hler and leaders of the German Jewish community.
On Wednesday he will travel to Rome for a meeting with Prodi and the Pope. He will also meet with former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and meet Jewish leaders there as well. He is expected back in Israel late Wednesday evening.
Sources in Jerusalem said Olmert would try to dampen Prodi's enthusiasm for the idea of duplicating the UNIFIL model in Lebanon and sending international troops to the Philadelphi Corridor, something the Italian Premier has mentioned on a number of occasions recently.
Olmert is expected to tell Prodi that it is too early to judge the success of the force in Lebanon, and make a decision to replicate the situation in Gaza.
Olmert is also expected to discuss with Prodi his recent comments, first reported in The Jerusalem Post last week, of a need to give Israel guarantees that it will remain a Jewish state under any diplomatic agreement, code for recognizing Israel's position that that the Palestinian demand for a right of return for refugees is a non-starter.
In a related development, Olmert asked his ministers at Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting not to comment on the recent Iraq Study Group report that recommended US engagement with Syria and Iran. Olmert said that to the best of his knowledge US President George W. Bush does not intend to change US policy regarding Iran and Syria, and that the report is part of an internal US debate that Israeli officials should not join.