Merkel, Olmert to set annual meetings

German chancellor vows to discuss country's "historical responsibility"; will address Knesset.

Olmert Merkel B-G 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
Olmert Merkel B-G 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to sign a document during her three-day visit here this week mandating yearly meetings between the Israeli and German heads of government, a level of institutionalized cooperation that Israel doesn't enjoy with any other state. The document will also call for annual meetings of cabinet ministers, such as the one scheduled to take place on Monday in Jerusalem. Merkel arrived on Sunday as head of a delegation that includes seven cabinet members, including her foreign, defense and economy ministers, and a number of businessmen for a visit meant to "upgrade" Israeli-German relations ahead of Israel's 60th anniversary. In comments she made soon after arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, Merkel said that close ties between the two countries were "not a given." "I am very thankful that I can open a new chapter in the relationship between our two peoples, and already tomorrow we will have consultations between our two governments," she said after being greeted by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and a number of ministers, Olmert advisers and religious leaders. She said that during her visit she would discuss "Germany's historical responsibility," as well as future projects "to make the world a better place." Before she arrived, Merkel said in Berlin that "a threat facing Israel is also a threat to us." "We are well aware of the threats that Israel came under over the last 60 years, and are happy to contribute to bringing an end to the conflict and a solution of two states for two peoples," she said during a brief ceremony a the airport. Olmert thanked Merkel for her "unshakable commitment," and that of Germany in general, to Israel's security. Germany is widely considered the closest ally Israel has inside the EU. "In the last few years the relationship between Israel and Germany has deepened in all spheres," Olmert said. "Germany is Israel's No. 2 trading partner, our scientific, cultural and economic links are wide and fruitful, and our security and diplomatic cooperation is closer than ever." Olmert characterized Merkel as a "confidant and strategic ally," and said that this visit, as well as events in Germany to mark Israel's 60th anniversary, were a reflection of the importance she placed on the relationship between the two countries. Immediately after arriving, Merkel flew by helicopter to Mitzpe Ramon for a tour of the Negev and a visit to the grave of David Ben-Gurion. She dined with Olmert in the evening. She is scheduled to visit Yad Vashem on Monday, the second time she will visit there since becoming chancellor two years ago. This is her third visit to Israel, something that stands in contrast to her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, who only visited once in seven years in office. On Tuesday Merkel is scheduled to address the Knesset in German, the first German chancellor to do so. The first person to address the Knesset in German was then-German president Johannes Rau in 2000. One of the main issues that is expected to be discussed during her visit is the Iranian nuclear program. While the German government, according to government officials, makes all the right statement regarding Iran, the German business community continues to do business with Teheran, though not - the officials said - at the level of other countries in Europe, such as Austria and Italy. Merkel will also hold meetings with President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Itzik and Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu.