Israel welcomes German backing for expanded Iran nuclear deal

Germany's foreign minister proposes wider-ranging terms in revived pact after change of US president

Israel's ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff poses in front of a giant Menora set up for the Jewish Hanukka Festival of Lights in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, prior to an interview with AFP on December 17, 2020. A German court is to hand down its verdict Monday, December 21, 2020 on a deadly far-right attack in Halle last year that nearly became the country's worst anti-Semitic atrocity since World War II. Issacharoff called the attack "a very, very alarming moment in German history". / AFP / John MACDOUGALL / TO GO WITH AFP INTERVIEW by Fides MIDDENDORF and Deborah COLE

Israel welcomed Germany's proposal to expand the Iran nuclear deal into a broader security agreement once Joe Biden assumes the US presidency next month.

Jeremy Issacharoff, the Israeli ambassador to Berlin, said a recent call by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to reassess the 2015 nuclear accord with a new US administration was a "step in the right direction".

The 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Mr Maas told Der Spiegel magazine this month that the existing agreement, under huge pressure after repeated Iranian breaches and US President Donald Trump's unilateral withdrawal in 2018, needed an overhaul.

The "nuclear agreement plus" envisaged by Mr Maas would bar the development of nuclear weapons as well as place restrictions on Tehran's ballistic rocket programme and interference in countries in the region.

Mr Biden has indicated that Washington could rejoin the deal as a starting point for follow-on negotiations if Iran returned to compliance.

But Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif rejected talk of reopening the accord struck five years ago after marathon talks involving the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

Mr Issacharoff said the so-called 5+1 partners needed to take Iran's "destabilising involvement" in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq into account in any further negotiations with Tehran.

"I think people need to realise that you can't just turn the clock back to 2015," he told Agence France-Presse.

"There's been a production of missiles and testing of missiles and these issues need to be addressed as well as the wholesale violations that Iran has carried out against the whole JCPOA agreement."

Triangular partnership

The Israeli ambassador said he welcomed more active involvement of Germany in Middle East diplomacy and the now robust "strategic partnership" that had developed in the 70 years since the Holocaust.

Anticipating a vast improvement in tone between Germany and the US with Mr Biden at the helm, he said Israel would like to see more of "a triangular type of strategic partnership" with the two countries on Middle East security issues "which I think would be very good for all sides".

He said it was Germany's firm commitment to atone for Nazi atrocities that had allowed relations with Israel to flourish since the countries officially established diplomatic relations in 1965.

Mr Issacharoff highlighted moving visits by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and Auschwitz this year and joint military exercises in August between Israeli and German fighter pilots.

"From defence issues to culture, people-to-people engagements, economy, cyber, intelligence – I can only see this as a partnership which is evolving and becoming one of, I'd say probably the most important partnership for Israel clearly in Europe but even in global terms."

Mr Issacharoff said that as ties between Israel and four Arab nations – Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan – normalise in deals brokered by Mr Trump's administration, Germany had played a constructive role as well.

Noting that Mr Maas had hosted the first meeting between his Israeli and Emirati counterparts in October, Mr Issacharoff called it "a very important step for Germany and a very important sign of its commitment to the process".

He credited Mr Maas and in particular Chancellor Angela Merkel, who plans to retire from politics next year after 16 years in power, with fostering deep and trusting relations with Israel despite their painful shared history.

"It's important to recognise her incredible contribution to the strength of the relationship," he said, hoping the commitment would "persist in German foreign policy".

"I am very encouraged and very inspired by how far two countries can go after such a difficult period of time and become so close."