PM: 'I Could Not Have Said What Was Written'

Berlin - The furor over Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's comments on Israeli nuclear capabilities, broadcast Monday, refused to die down during his visit to Berlin yesterday. The subject came up at his joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel and again at a briefing for the Israeli press.

At the briefing, in Merkel's office, Olmert was asked repeatedly about his comments. His answer this time was a careful reiteration of Israel's traditional policy that the country will not be the first nation in the region to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.

In the briefing to the Israeli press, he did quote, twice more, the Israeli policy. But when asked about the last sentence that had appeared in his long response to the German press in an interview, in which he included Israel in the group of nations - including France, the United States and Russia - with nuclear weapons, he responded that "someone reading the statements will notice that there was a certain distortion in the words I was quoted as saying, because I simply could not have said them the way they were written."

Despite the storm, Olmert did not seem disturbed. He told the Israeli reporters that from his point of view the matter was over, and the political attacks on him in Israel did not surprise him. Olmert said the German media who met him Friday in Jerusalem (the interview was broadcast in Germany on Monday night) did not get the impression that he had said anything new on the nuclear issue, "although they are quite sensitive to those matters. No one gave those remarks the interpretation they were given in Israel," Olmert said. "I believe it was an innocent mistake. I also read today the long article published by AP on this subject, in which they say they understood from my statements that I was avoiding comment on the matter of Israel's nuclear capability."

To the distress of Olmert and his people, his visit to Germany was in the headlines mainly due to his blunder on the nuclear issue. Some connected the things he said or did not say in that interview to statements made yesterday morning at a ceremony at Berlin's Grunewald train station, from which 55,000 Berlin Jews were sent to the concentration camps. "Woe to the weak and the defenseless; woe to those who do not believe those who threaten to destroy us. Woe to the apathetic who don't prepare themselves to thwart every danger; woe to those who harbor false illusions - and who rely on the grace of foreigners," Olmert said.

Criticism of Olmert was heard yesterday from within the cabinet and his Kadima party as well. One minister said that Olmert's slips of the tongue had become a problem. They were embarrassing, and created unnecessary political, diplomatic and public crises, the minister also said, and even if Olmert had not done any security damage with his remarks, he appears hasty, and that is a problematic image for a prime minister. Senior Kadima figures said Olmert would do well to adopt Ariel Sharon's policy of reading his public remarks from written texts, and planning well for interviews.

Meanwhile, in Kuwait City, the secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah, called yesterday on the United States and the international community to sanction Israel for its nuclear policy. "The United States should not apply double standards, since it calls for sanctions on countries that have nuclear programs that we have not ruled out are the framework for nuclear weapons," Attiyah said.