- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006

Both President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday reiterated their tough stance on a broad range of Middle East issues, including the nuclear showdown with Iran, the commitment to defend Israel and the refusal of all contact with the Palestinian governing party Hamas.

“America’s commitment to Israel’s security is strong, enduring and unshakable,” Mr. Bush said in a speech in Washington to the influential American Jewish Committee (AJC), which is marking its 100th anniversary. He said the United States and Israel were “natural allies, and these ties will never be broken.”

Mrs. Merkel, who also addressed the gala event along with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, evoked the horrors of the Holocaust and vowed that her country would not waver in its support for Israel.

“The right of existence of the state of Israel must never be questioned,” Mrs. Merkel, who was the first German chancellor to address the AJC, said to loud applause by the audience of about 2,500 Jewish leaders, U.S. politicians and diplomats.

“This is why it is intolerable for any German government when the Iranian president questions the right of Israel’s existence.”

She was referring to repeated comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the Jewish state should be “wiped off the map.”

Mr. Bush said the United States was “concerned because the Iranian regime is repressing its people, sponsoring terrorists, destabilizing the region, threatening Israel and defying the world with its ambitions for nuclear weapons.”

The United States is leading a bid to make the U.N. Security Council take action against Iran over its nuclear program, which Washington and its allies fear hides an attempt to make an atomic bomb. Iran insists its program is for civilian purposes.

Mrs. Merkel said the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program was of great concern and added that it was essential for the international community to be united on the issue.

“Iran must be prevented from getting nuclear weapons,” she said. “We need to stand together and show a united front.”

Both Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Bush also urged Hamas to choose the path of peace by recognizing Israel and thus offering a better future for the Palestinian people.

“Hamas has made it clear that they do not acknowledge the right of Israel to exist, and I’ve made it clear that so long as that’s their policy, we will have no contact with the leaders of Hamas,” Mr. Bush said.

Mrs. Merkel said it was up to the terrorist group to “reject violence and acknowledge without ambiguity Israel’s right to exist.”

In its charter, Hamas endorses “the Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and cites Islam’s prophet Muhammad as exhorting Muslims to kill all Jews. It says that “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”

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