German President Seeks to Move Past Rift with Israel

Frank-Walter Steinmeier

JERUSALEM (AFP) –  German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier sought to move past a diplomatic dispute between his country and Israel while visiting Sunday, saying ties were strong enough to endure “turbulence”.

Steinmeier’s visit, his first to Israel since becoming president in March and first to any country in that capacity outside Europe, comes after a recent row between Germany’s foreign minister and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The foundations (of the Israeli-German) relationship are so broad that I think they can endure some turbulence like that taking place in the last 14 days,” Steinmeier said at the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Netanyahu had cancelled an April 25 meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after the visiting diplomat declined to call off meetings with rights groups critical of Israel’s government.

“The unique relationship of our two states is too important to be measured solely by the question of who a legitimate interlocutor should be,” Steinmeier said.

Steinmeier, who is not scheduled to meet any potentially controversial group during his visit, said trust and understanding between Israel and Germany should result in no limitations.

“I believe that we can and should be able to lead an open and honest dialogue with one another, and to my mind, need no new rules,” he said.

“We should not impose any restrictions, we should have the trust that friends like we are will be able to interpret what they hear in the right way,” he said.

Host Rivlin addressed the controversy, saying that “Israel is a vibrant democracy with different voices, varied and critical, even if at times these voices are hard to accept and infuriating.”

The German president was to meet Netanyahu later on Sunday. On Tuesday, Steinmeier will call on Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters in the occupied West Bank.

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