German president stresses close ties with Israel | News | DW | 29.05.2012
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German president stresses close ties with Israel

President Joachim Gauck has said Germany and Israel are "more closely tied than ever before." He was speaking after being officially received by his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres.

Joachim Gauck's first official trip to the region since taking office in March began on Tuesday morning when the German president met his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

"Germany and Israel are more closely tied than ever before," Gauck said in a brief statement. Peres, meanwhile, spoke of the "close friendship" between the two countries.

Gauck arrived in Israel late on Monday for a three-day official visit, during which he will also go to Ramallah in the West Bank to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Prior to meeting Abbas, he will speak with top Israeli politicians like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday.

Iran a threat

Speaking to Peres Gauck voiced concern about Iran's nuclear program, saying that "Iran is a threat not only to Israel but also to Europe" and that nuclear talks with Iran "must yield concrete results."

Israel's President Peres walks with his German counterpart Gauck during a welcoming ceremony in Jerusalem

Gauck: Germans need to fight for Israel's existence and security

At the same time, he stressed that "Germany is committed to a diplomatic solution based on sanctions."

The German president was also asked about a recent poem or treatise published by revered German author Günter Grass, which was heavily critical of Israel and its handling of the dispute with Iran.

"I want to say that I don't in any way agree with what he said, and I categorically state that Günter Grass' position is not in line with German policy on Israel," Gauck said.

Grass had complained of double standards in the dispute between Israel and Iran, positing that it was highly likely - though unproven and unchecked by the international community - that Israel was already an established nuclear power. He pointed, among other things, to the subsidized German sale of nuclear-capable submarines as corroborating evidence in the text published in the major Süddeutsche Zeitung daily, entitled "What must be said."

Germans unhappy about Israeli policies

Gauck was asked about this in connection with a recent survey suggesting that public opinion in Germany was similarly unhappy with Israeli behavior - with 59 percent of respondents saying they thought the country's foreign policies were aggressive.

"Although growing resentment of Israel is not solely a German phenomenon, we Germans have to ask ourselves especially critically: 'In what spirit do we judge Israel's policies?' We must do so purely in a spirit of friendship," Gauck told the Ha'retz daily paper in an interview published Tuesday.

He assured Peres on Tuesday that "the fight for Israel's existence and security is decisive for Germany."

msh, ng/ccp (dpa, AFP, dapd)