By Yossi Verter, Haaretz Correspondent and The Associated Press
BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, after meeting here with Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert, that the time has come to work vigorously to impose
sanctions on Iran that will lead Tehran to stop enriching uranium, but
rejected the military option.
Merkel said at a press conference after the meeting that "for me, a military
solution is not on the table - I have said that."
"It is all the more important for me that we explore every possibility - from
offers to sanctions - to truly exhaust the diplomatic possibilities for a
solution," she said.
Olmert said that Israel is not necessarily calling for a military operation
either, and both stressed the need for Tehran to be prevented from developing
If current international efforts "are consistent and firm, there is a good
chance of bringing about the outcome that we seek," Olmert said. The prime
minister said he has long preferred a compromise, as long as it prevents Iran
from crossing the technology threshold that would allow it to produce a
In a briefing for Israeli journalists, Olmert said the United States was
already taking economic steps that don't require United Nations approval, like
limiting international credit lines and making foreign trade with Iran
difficult. And as a result of the steps Germany has taken, trade between it
and Iran decreased by 12 percent in the past year, he said.
"If we can have a negative impact on the Iranians' quality of life, it will
bring us closer to the result we hope for," said Olmert. "There is no time. We
must act all the time to foil any possibility that Iran will attain nuclear
capability. The lack of time is inherent to the scope of the threat."
Merkel and Olmert also mentioned Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. "Israel is
making an exceptional effort to launch a serious dialogue with the
Palestinians, and for this the principles of the road map are the basis for
this dialogue," Olmert said at the press conference.
Merkel praised Olmert for his recent Sde Boker speech, in which he called for
negotiations with the Palestinians, and said she was disappointed that
Germany's efforts have not yet led to the release of the two Israeli soldiers
kidnapped by Hezbollah last summer. She also said she sent the German foreign
minister to Syria a week ago - a move Olmert has criticized - in the hope that
his visit would yield positive results, but that the signs from Damascus are
not cause for optimism.
Olmert said Israel has received a clear sign that captive soldier Gilad
Shalit, who was abducted near Gaza, is alive, but has not received any such
signs regarding the two soldiers kidnapped in the North.
Merkel criticized both Iran and Syria for failing to play a constructive role
in wider attempts to find a lasting, peaceful solution for the Middle East.
Germany, along with the UN Security Council's five permanent members, has led
efforts to persuade Iran to halt uranium enrichment. The six powers are
currently trying to agree on proposed sanctions against Iran, which insists
its nuclear program is peaceful and has resisted efforts to pressure it to
modify it so it can't produce arms.
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