French, German FMs to Arrive in Israel to Discuss U.S. Ultimatum on Iran Nuclear Deal

The new German foreign minister is considered friendlier to the Netanyahu government than his predecessor, but in Germany many believe that this might manifest itself mainly on the Israeli-Palestinian issue

President Hassan Rouhani (right) greets French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the start of their meeting, Tehran, Iran, March 5, 2018.
/AP

The German and the French foreign ministers will arrive in Israel at the beginning of the week for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the American ultimatum to either fix or cancel the nuclear agreement between the world powers and Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening that if the powers do not “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal,” the U.S. will withdraw from it by May 12, a step Netanyahu has been continually urging in recent months. In an attempt to salvage the deal, France, Germany and Britain have proposed a compromise: harsh sanctions to be imposed by the European Union on Iran’s long-term missile program.

France is leading the hard line against changing the agreement. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who will be in Israel on Monday, called on the EU last week to impose sanctions on the missile program in light of Iran’s “controversial” role in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. “We are determined to ensure that the Vienna accord is respected,” he said, referring to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. “But we must not exclude from consideration Iran’s responsibility in the proliferation of ballistic missiles and in its very questionable role” in the Middle East. The proposal will require the support of all EU members, which is considered very complicated to obtain.

In December Netanyahu met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and told him: “Israel will not stand for the Iranian attempt to establish itself in Syria and its attempts to take over Lebanon and manufacture masses of long-range missiles aimed at Israel.” Le Drian and Netanyahu are also expected to discuss the possibility of Macron paying a reciprocal visit to Israel in the fall. Another subject that will likely come up is the recent arrest of a French consular official accused of smuggling arms from the West Bank to Gaza, as well the recent terror attack in France.

The new German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, will be in Israel on Sunday and Monday and is also expected to discuss sanctions against Iran with Netanyahu. In Maas’ swearing-in speech earlier this month he said the first three countries he wanted to visit are France, Poland and Israel. The first two are a given for German foreign policy, but Israel is considered an unusual addition to the list. “I entered politics because of Auschwitz,” he said in his speech, reiterating Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security. In his previous position as justice minister, Maas developed good ties with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Shaked congratulated Maas in a tweet after he took office.

Maas is considered friendlier to the Netanyahu government than his predecessor, Sigmar Gabriel, but in Germany many believe that this might manifest itself mainly on issues relating to the Palestinians and the settlement and not in regard to Iran.

Netanyahu spoke last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and congratulated her on establishing a new government. The two leaders agreed to hold the traditional meeting between the Israeli and the German cabinets in Jerusalem in the coming months. Netanyahu also spoke with Maas by phone, when the two agreed on the meeting that will take place this week.

Le Drian and Maas will also meet with President Reuven Rivlin and opposition chairman Isaac Herzog, will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center and hold meetings with Palestinian officials in Ramallah. Maas is expected to plant a tree and meet with Holocaust survivors through the Amcha organization.