World News

Netanyahu starts European tour to persuade leaders to quit Iran deal

Posted June 4, 2018 11:33 a.m. EDT

— Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicked off a three-day trip to persuade the leaders of Germany, France and the UK to quit the Iran nuclear deal, meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday to discuss the threat he says Tehran poses to his country and the wider Middle East.

At a press conference with Merkel in the German capital following their meeting, the two leaders agreed that Iranian influence in the region represented a threat to Israel, though the Chancellor reiterated Europe's intention to remain in the deal to curtail Iran's nuclear weapons that the US recently walked away from.

"Although we have a different opinion as to the usefulness of JCPOA and its effectiveness, Germany did not cancel this agreement. Together with other European partners, we stand by it," Merkel said, using the formal name for the Iran nuclear deal.

"We agree that Iran's regional influence is a cause for concern, especially for Israel's security," Merkel added, standing alongside Netanyahu. "This is why we feel we ought to make every diplomatic effort we can in order to address the ballistic missile program of Iran but also its activities in Yemen, the presence of its army in Syria, and to exert our influence in such a way that Iran is pushed out of this region, particularly a region close to Israel."

Netanyahu has been a steadfast opponent of the nuclear deal since it was signed in 2015 by Iran, the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China. While European countries criticized US President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the deal in May, the Israeli leader praised the move as a "bold decision."

On Monday, the Israeli leader accused Iran of "trying to conquer" the Middle East with its military presence in Syria, adding that "Iran should leave Syria, all parts of Syria, that is our position."

On Sunday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted that Israel was a "malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen."

Netanyahu responded to Khamenei's tweet during Monday's news conference. "It is amazing that at the beginning of the 21st century someone talks about destroying Israel," he said, adding that many "very promising contacts with Arab states are developing."

Netanyahu also said he would meet the US Ambassador to Germany -- the conservative Richard Grenell, a close ally of US President Donald Trump -- at the airport. He is due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday before flying to Britain for talks.