German Foreign Minister Steinmeier Meets With New York Jewish Leaders

NEW YORK - The new German government is seeking to demonstrate its desire for improved relations with Jews, particularly the American Jewish community.

Germany's new foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, held a series of meetings in New York on Monday with leaders of Jewish organizations here. The meetings were scheduled in advance at Steinmeier's initiative.

Steinmeier, making his first state visit to the United States, stopped in New York en route to political talks in Washington.

Jewish leaders interpreted the fact that Steinmeier devoted several hours to a series of talks with Jewish leaders before his official visit to the capital as being in keeping with the new German government's desire to improve relations with the American administration.

Steinmeier met with Dr. Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, who proposed that the German government head up an international effort to maintain a framework for interfaith talks among Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Singer suggested that Germany initiate an official gathering in Berlin, at which

prominent representatives of the three religions would hold a dialogue aimed at promoting an atmosphere of reconciliation.

He urged Steinmeier to take the lead in an initiative to include Muslims in interfaith talks that would bolster the moderate forces within Islam.

Singer said this initiative is well-suited to Germany, which previously filled a key role in promoting Jewish-Catholic dialogue. "Now Germany has to build a model for interfaith dialogue among Christians, Jews and Muslims," Singer urged.

Singer also asked that the German government finish work on approving an allocations agreement for funding nursing care for Holocaust survivors who are sick and needy. Negotiations over wording of the agreement were held up by the elections and change of government in Germany.

Singer said after the meeting that Steinmeier had shown favorable interest in the proposal that Berlin host a series of interfaith talks.

The timing of the WJC proposal is of particular significance, since this organization is one of three international bodies sponsoring an interfaith conference in Spain on December 11, for Christian, Jewish and Muslim representatives. The event is under the auspices of the Spanish government.

The WJC office in New York announced that Singer is scheduled to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel in a few days.

Among the Jewish leaders who met with Steinmeier on Monday were Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

"We had excellent relations with the former German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer," Harris told Haaretz yesterday. "However, Steinmeier took the trouble to make it clear to us that he is interested in continuity and understanding between the Jews and the new government."