Iran Tops Agenda as Germany, Israel Hold Joint Cabinet Meeting

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BERLIN - For the first time ever, the Israeli cabinet yesterday held a joint meeting with its German counterpart in Berlin, in what both parties called a "historic" move.

The joint meeting, one of the results of the upgrade in diplomatic relations between Berlin and Jerusalem two years ago, was held at noon at the chancellery, Chancellor Angela Merkel's offices in the German capital.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was accompanied on his visit to Berlin by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz.

After the meeting, Israel and Germany signed cooperation agreements in the areas of science and environmental protection.

Prior to the joint cabinet meeting, both groups visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in downtown Berlin, which was cordoned off due to security concerns. Both Merkel and Netanyahu signed the museum's guest book.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon met with the German minister for economic cooperation and development, Dirk Niebel, and said the two signed an agreement to extend humanitarian aid to Africa.

"It is very symbolic that both nations, with such a difficult history between them, are today cooperating on humanitarian assistance," Ayalon said.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu and Barak met with Merkel and her defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. In their joint press conference after the meeting, the two leaders spoke about Iran's nuclear program.

"We have made it clear that if the reaction of Iran does not change, we will cooperate in the preparation of wide-ranging sanctions ... preferably within the framework of a UN Security Council resolution," Merkel said.

She added that in the coming weeks, her government would consult with other nations prepared to push for sanctions against Tehran.

"We have repeatedly made the offer to Iran for transparent cooperation," she said. "Unfortunately, they have not taken it."

The German chancellor stressed that in addition to Germany's commitment to Israel's security, it is also important to advance cultural and scientific ties between the states.

Netanyahu's remarks focused on the Iranian nuclear threat and called for sanctions against Iran. He thanked Merkel for her courage and determination in leading the German people to face its Nazi past and praised the friendship between the two countries.

In March 2008, Merkel led a ministerial delegation to Israel and addressed the Knesset. The joint cabinet meeting is slated to become an annual event.

With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu and Merkel both said, in response to a reporter's question, that the United States is capable of getting the peace process started again.

The Israeli delegation flew back to Israel yesterday afternoon.



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