JERUSALEM Germany views Iran as a potential threat not just to Israel, but also to European countries, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday at a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But she stopped short of endorsing her host's demand that Tehran give up all sensitive nuclear projects under any negotiated deal with world powers.
Germany is Israel's most important ally in Europe, where the Netanyahu government frets it is losing support given troubled peace talks with the Palestinians. That makes Merkel's views a bellwether of European sentiment on Middle East issues.
"We see the threat not just as a threat for the state of Israel but as a general threat for Europe as well," she said, adding that Germany would pursue international talks with Iran on its nuclear activities.
The diplomacy was kick-started with an interim deal in November which Netanyahu blasted as an "historic mistake" for easing sanctions on Iran while leaving its infrastructure for enriching uranium and potentially producing plutonium.
Iran says its nuclear projects are for peaceful needs.
Netanyahu, whose country is widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed nation, acknowledged that world powers had "talked about the possibility of some enrichment" continuing in Iran as part of a final deal.
"I think it's a mistake," he said. "Every single leader that I've talked to in the Middle East agrees with that position, whether they say so publicly or not. Why? Because if Iran really wants just civilian nuclear energy, then they don't need any enrichment. They don't need centrifuges."
Asked if she agreed, Merkel was circumspect.
"It is clear that there is a difference of opinion here with regard to these negotiations and whether they ought to take place. We have set out on the path of low enrichment, but enrichment does take place and I believe that we can succeed," she said.
"We can expect a kind of shield being set up in order to make sure that Iran does not achieve in the short future a (military) nuclear capability," she added, in an apparent allusion to an envisaged regime of low-volume enrichment and enhanced nuclear inspections.
"The question is whether we will be able to achieve a result that is better than the present state of affairs. We have decided it is better to participate in the negotiations because we believe that to be better than the status quo."
(Writing by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Noah Barkin and Madeline Chambers in Berlin, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alistair Lyon)