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Germany

Merkel: Israel's Right to Exist "Must Never be Questioned"

Speaking at the American Jewish Committee (AJC) annual meeting in Washington, German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced Iran and the Palestinian militant group Hamas for questioning Israel's right to exist.

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Merkel at Jerusalem's Holocaust memorial in January

"The right of existence of the state of Israel must never be questioned," Merkel said at a gala event in Washington celebrating the 100th anniversary of the influential American Jewish Committee. "This is why it is intolerable for any German government when the Iranian president questions the right of Israel's existence."

She was referring to stepped up anti-Israeli rhetoric by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last fall, who has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." Merkel also said that Tehran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

Urged to reject viole n ce

The German chancellor, who was joined at the event by US President Bush and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, also recalled the horrors of the Holocaust and pledged that her country would remain committed to fighting anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.

She urged the new Palestinian government led by Hamas to "reject violence and acknowledge without ambiguity Israel's right to exist."

"The decision lies with Hamas," Merkel said. "And it will have to answer to the Palestinian people for its policies."

Merkel was the first German chancellor to address the Jewish body which was founded in 1906 by American Jews concerned about the repression of Jews in Russia.

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Merkel greets AJC chairman E. Robert Goodkind as Bush looks on

Bush said that the United States has an "unshakeable" commitment to defend Israel and pledged that his administration would have no contact with the militant Palestinian group Hamas so long as it refuses to recognize the Jewish state.

"America's commitment to Israel's security is strong, enduring and unshakeable," Bush said.

He added that the United States and Israel were "natural allies and these ties will never be broken."

No n ukes for Ira n

Merkel said the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program was of great cause for concern and added that it was essential for the international community to stand together on the issue.

"Iran must be prevented from getting nuclear weapons," she told her audience of some 2,500 Jewish leaders, US politicians and diplomats. "We need to stand together and show a united front."

Bush said the United States was "concerned because the Iranian regime is repressing its people, sponsoring terrorists, destabilizing the region, threatening Israel and defying the world with its ambitions for nuclear weapons."

CIA Flugaffäre

Bush and Merkel avoided topics of discord such as the secret CIA rendition flights or Guantanamo Bay

"American will continue to rally the world to confront these threats," he said.

The United States is leading a bid to make the UN Security Council take action against Iran over its nuclear program, which Washington and its allies fear hides an attempt to make an atomic bomb. Iran insists its program is for civilian purposes.

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