Iran to top agenda when Olmert meets Merkel in Berlin

(dpa) - After visiting Berlin's Jewish Museum, where the Holocaust is a central theme, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was to hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel later Monday on the threat his country faces from Iran and the wider conflict in the Middle East.

Olmert made clear as recently as last month that Israel would retain "all options" in dealing with a potential nuclear threat from Iran. Israel is itself an acknowledged nuclear power, although it has not formally announced that it possesses nuclear weapons.

Merkel made clear ahead of the visit that a close relationship with Israel was a key pillar of German foreign policy. The aim was a "safe, stable Israel," she said.

"Our mutual aim is that peace and stability be established in the region. That is why we support a two-state solution: A Jewish state of Israel as well as a Palestinian state," Merkel said.

Germany and five permanent members of the UN Security Council have been pressuring Iran to abandon uranium enrichment and open its nuclear facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The six last month pledged to bring a new resolution on Iran to the Security Council.

Germany remains an important trading partner for Iran, with total trade running at 4.5 billion euros (6.5 billion euros) in 2006, much of it in German machinery exports, although the volume has declined in recent years.

Olmert and Merkel are also to discuss bilateral issues and the visit by Merkel and members of her cabinet to Israel next month to mark 60 years since the founding of the Jewish state.

Berlin's much-visited Jewish Museum was the first public engagement undertaken by Olmert, who arrived in Berlin on Sunday evening.

The prime minister placed a card wishing a flourishing future to the Jewish people on the artificial pomegranate tree at the entrance to the museum, which was closed to the public for the event.

Berlin police, including sharpshooters, cordoned off the area for the visit, while a police helicopter kept watch from above.

The museum's exhibition documents 2,000 years of the Jewish community in Central Europe.

Designed by US architect Daniel Liebeskind, the museum has drawn more than 4 million visitors since being opened in 2001.

Olmert was to also hold talks Tuesday with President Horst Koehler, before leaving Germany Tuesday evening.

Olmert's stay in a hotel near the zoo in west Berlin has forced the rerouting of some buses on security grounds. Police have mounted a tight security operation and have announced they will block all traffic when the Israeli premier's motorcade passes through the city.

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