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Germany

Iran High on the Agenda for Olmert's Talks With Merkel

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert plans to use a three-day visit to Germany to push for tougher international measures to force Iran to halt a nuclear program he has called a threat to Israel's existence.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Relations between Germany and Israel are close

Iran's nuclear ambitions and its continuing defiance of international pressure to curb its uranium enrichment activities will dominate talks when Olmert meets German Chancellor Merkel in Berlin this week, his second trip to Germany in 14 months.

The premier "will discuss the serious problem of Iran's nuclear program," an Israeli government official told news agency AFP on condition of anonymity before the visit.

"We expect further efforts in terms of economic and political pressure on Iran to renounce its nuclear projects, and Germany is a key player in this," the official added.

"All options on the table"

Germany has traditionally been among the top exporters to Iran, sending goods worth 4.1 billion euros ($5.9 billion) in 2006.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map

Last month, Germany joined the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, the US, France, Russia and China -- in formulating a third UN resolution against Iran containing stringent sanctions to further tighten the economic screws. They include mandatory travel bans, asset freezes and monitoring all banks in the country.

The international community widely believes Iran is developing a secret program to build nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

Israel considers Iran its arch-foe following repeated calls by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel to be wiped off the map.

Olmert said last month Israel, widely considered the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, would not be reconciled to a nuclear Iran and "all options are on the table.

"A secure and stable Israel"

This week, diplomats said Iran was testing an advanced centrifuge at its Natanz nuclear complex, a move many fear could lead Tehran to enrich uranium faster -- a prerequisite for building nuclear weapons.

Tehran has insisted that its nuclear program is meant for peaceful civilian means, largely for producing electricity. The Islamic Republic remains under sanctions for concealing the program until 2003 and preventing UN inspectors since then from inspecting its facilities.

Olmert, who is scheduled to meet Merkel on Tuesday, Feb. 12, is to brief the German chancellor on peace negotiations he initiated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after a US-led conference in Annapolis, Maryland, last November.

"Germany and the European Union will do everything in their power to support the peace process… Our goal is that a secure and stable Israel and a Palestinian state can live as neighbors in the region in peace and freedom," Merkel said on Saturday in her weekly online podcast.

While in Germany, Olmert will also meet with German President Horst Köhler, parliamentary representatives and leaders of the local Jewish community.

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