Netanyahu, Merkel agree on pressuring Iran

Chancellor threatens further Teheran sanctions, tells Netanyahu Israel must halt settlement activity.

merkel kisses netanyahu 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
merkel kisses netanyahu 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel emerged from their meeting Thursday with slightly different messages on Iran, but widely divergent viewpoints regarding the settlements. Regarding Iran, while Netanyahu called for crippling sanctions, Merkel said that if Teheran rejected the US's offer for engagement, serious sanctions should be discussed. "There is an offer on the table and Iran needs to respond positively. If they don't, we will have to talk about sanctions," she said, in an apparent reference to a ban on Iranian imports of refined oil products. The prime minister, however, was more forceful, saying the development of nuclear weapons by the Islamic republic threatens not only Israel, but the entire world. "Israel expects all responsible members of the the international community to address this issue," and the most important thing to do now is to put into place crippling sanctions," Netanyahu said. It would be best if these sanctions were imposed by the UN Security Council, but barring that, a "coalition of the willing" could have enormous impact, he said. Merkel, however, said it was important to get Russia and China on board, and that sanctions would be ineffective if they were taken only by the US and some European countries. Expressing understanding for Israel's impatience on the matter, she said acting on Iran would be a "long and arduous process." While Netanyahu said at a press briefing after the meeting that the Islamic republic took up the lion's share of their discussion, Merkel chose to stress the settlement issue, and called on the prime minister to stop Israeli construction in the territories. Merkel said a ban on future settlement would be an "important building block" in efforts to relaunch the diplomatic process, even though she was aware of Netanyahu's domestic problems on this issue. "This means the Palestinians have to do something as well," she said, without spelling out what she had in mind. She stressed this issue a number of times during the press conference. Netanyahu did not relate to the issue, saying only that he has made clear that he was ready for negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions. He said he hoped the negotiations would begin in "a month or two." The prime minister also said that he discussed the fate of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit with Merkel, but would not go into details. Germany has reportedly emerged as a central player in efforts to work put together a prisoner swap with Hamas, though it has never confirmed a role. "Every time I go abroad I talk about Schalit, and today is no exception," Netanyahu said. Israel appreciates all efforts of well-meaning governments to help us in this regard, and Germany is definitely a well-meaning government, he said. He referred to Merkel - currently leading the Christian Democratic Union in an election campaign against her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the Social Democratic Party - as a "true friend of Israel and a true champion of peace." Netanyahu met with Steinmeier in the morning, and was scheduled to return to Israel early Friday morning.