Merkel criticizes Iran and Syria

German chancellor: Certain "forces" jeopardize Mideast peace, stability efforts.

merkel UAE 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
merkel UAE 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday criticized Iran and Syria for their role in the Middle East and urged the international community to seize a vanishing "window of opportunity" to find a settlement for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Merkel, who has made progress toward peace a key goal of her country's six-month EU presidency, used some of her toughest language during a speech in Abu Dhabi, part of her tour of Arab countries aimed at rallying support for regional peace and stability. "There are forces, in the region and elsewhere, that do not want success in these efforts," Merkel said in the United Arab Emirates' capital. "On this account we have concerns, especially with respect to Iran." Merkel criticized Iran's nuclear program as a destabilizing influence and said its disputed role in events in Lebanon was "not helpful." She also criticized Syria for its alleged actions in Lebanon. "Syria has not used its opportunity to play a constructive role," she said. "One step, for example, would be to recognize Lebanon diplomatically." Both Iran and Syria are backers of Hizbullah. Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Syria in an attempt to reach out to Damascus over the unsettled situation in Lebanon after the brief summer war. Merkel's trip follows a meeting last week of the Quartet - the US, the UN, the EU and Russia - in Washington. She had pressed US President George W. Bush to support reconvening the Quartet, which had not met in many months. Her role in European affairs has gained added prominence with other major EU leaders such as Britain's Tony Blair and France's Jacques Chirac considered lame ducks. Merkel said the Quartet could bring results but warned of "a window of opportunity that is finite." German officials have stressed the importance of Washington pushing the parties toward the Quartet's proposed two-state solution, but have warned that the 2008 US presidential election could increasingly become a distraction. During her trip, Merkel alluded to her own experience as someone who grew up in communist East Germany, only to see the Berlin Wall come down and the Cold War end. "The dreams that we were able to achieve in Germany, that must also succeed in this region," she said. "And I think we're almost obligated to make a contribution with our experiences." Merkel's tour already has taken her to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both of which have worked to mediate in the Palestinian power struggle between Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah and Hamas, which runs the Palestinian government, in hopes a resolution will help relations with Israel. She threw her support behind Saudi-sponsored talks between feuding Palestinian factions set for Tuesday. "We will do everything in our power to see that these talks turn out successfully," said Merkel. "At the very least, we will be in close contact with those who are conducting these talks." The rival Hamas and Fatah factions have been invited by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to a summit meeting in the holy city of Mecca beginning Tuesday. The highest-profile mediation effort in several weeks of fighting is increasing pressuring both sides to end their power struggle and form a coalition government. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has said the stalled Mideast peace process depended on resolving the conflict between rival Palestinian factions as well as the release of captured IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit, by Hamas terrorists in June. As she vowed support for the effort to bring the two sides together, Merkel pointed to what she said was a chance for a solution to the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "It would be a great mistake if we did not use this moment," Merkel said, saying that the EU was ready to add its efforts. "I have always said that it's a matter of combining our efforts and directing them in the same direction." Merkel arrived Monday in Abu Dhabi, the third leg of her tour, and she also plans a stop in Kuwait. The German leader met with Emirates President Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.