President Goodkind,
Executive Director Harris,
Mr Meyer,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today. The fact that the American Jewish Committee is celebrating its 100th anniversary with us is a great honour for Germany and the city of Berlin.

The centre of Jewish intellectual life in Europe used to be here in the heart of Berlin, in the immediate vicinity of this building. There are traces of Jewish life in almost every street in Berlin’s historical centre. For instance, the rise of the great philosopher Moses Mendelssohn began in Probststrasse in the Nikolaiviertel, just a few hundred metres from here.

Henriette Herz invited writers, philosophers and artists to her literary salon in Friedrichstrasse. The publisher Samuel Fischer began his career as an assistant in a bookshop in the same street, and the painter Max Liebermann had his studio only a few metres from here, right next to the Brandenburg Gate.

This flourishing Jewish life was destroyed in the most cruel manner imaginable during the National Socialist regime. With the expulsion and murder of the Jews, we irretrievably lost a part of our own cultural and intellectual identity.

That becomes devastatingly clear during guided tours through Jewish Berlin, for they are mainly encounters with Berlin’s past. They show us places where famous Jewish figures lived until the first third of the last century and where a Jew institution was based until six decades ago – all of that before the National Socialist regime so mercilessly destroyed the lives of million of Jews and their future.

The Holocaust Memorial, just behind Hotel Adlon, honours the victims of this barbaric crime against humanity. The memorial was not uncontroversial; however, it is evident to anyone visiting it today that it is firmly established here in the centre of Berlin as a place of remembrance which serves as a constant reminder that we must take to heart the lessons of the past. We are aware that every individual and, in particular, the German political establishment has a responsibility arising from our German history. You may rest assured that the new German Government will never shirk this responsibility.

Developments during the last few years have also encouraged us to meet our obligation: anyone who strolls through Berlin today will encounter many traces and evidence of active Jewish life. The fact that we once again have Jewish kindergartens and schools in Berlin and other German cities, that seminars to train rabbis have been established and synagogues built is a source of great satisfaction for me. You can buy Jewish newspapers at kiosks. That may be taken for granted in New York but is a welcome sign to us that Jewish people are once again calling Germany home.

The American Jewish Committee has made a valuable contribution towards this development. The AJC was the first Jewish organization to seek contact with Germany after the horrors of the Holocaust.

As early as the 1950s, the organization brought American Jewish life closer to Germans and Germany closer to American Jews through education and exchange programmes. For the AJC had the great foresight to believe in the prospect of a democratic Germany shortly after the Second World War. This vote of confidence at that time was a great gift for us Germans and we are still grateful today.

During the last six decades, the American Jewish Committee has become a key partner for us in the dialogue with the American Jewish community and thus also in transatlantic understanding. The opening of the Berlin AJC office eight years ago in Mosse Palais at Leipziger Platz demonstrated the AJC’s long-term commitment to Germany. In this it can continue to rely on close cooperation with the German political foundations, our institutions and, above all, with the German Government.

One example of the close cooperation between the German Government and the American Jewish Committee was the outstanding contribution which the AJC made towards the OSCE Anti-Semitism Conference which the German Government hosted in Berlin two years ago. At the conference, the OSCE states reaffirmed their responsibility to fight anti-Semitism together, to overcome it together. Due to our history, we Germans have a special responsibility. We will continue to resolutely combat any form of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia and trust that the American Jewish Committee supports our efforts.

During the last few years, Berlin has not only developed into the centre of Jewish life in Germany but, thanks to your help, into the intellectual hub between Europe and the US. The fact that organizations such as the German Marshall Fund, the American Academy and the Aspen Institute have created such successful networks here testifies to this as does the number of cooperation projects between universities or the fact that the people of Berlin will soon be able to listen to National Public Radio around the clock.

Within this network of organizations – of which many are represented here this evening – the AJC has made itself a special name as a forum for transatlantic dialogue.

Good and close relations with North America are just as essential to us Germans as our integration in the European Union. The new German Government expressed its commitment to the transatlantic relationship as an unalterable feature of German foreign policy in its coalition agreement.

In this, we set particular store by the dialogue with the American Jewish community. It was therefore very important to me to meet representatives of Jewish organizations in New York during my first official visit to the US last November. I have fond memories of this first meeting with you, Mr Goodkind and Mr Harris, and am certain that many more will follow.

The transatlantic friendship rests on a solid basis for it goes far beyond day-to-day politics: our friendship is based on values and interests which we share and, not least, on common experiences. The Berlin Airlift, the reconstruction of the Federal Republic with the help of the Marshall Plan, our security during the Cold War, as well as German reunification: all of this is especially evident here in Berlin – the Wall stood just a few metres from here – and all of this would have been inconceivable without the US.

We have a common understanding with our partners in the US that we want to step up our cooperation and – this is particularly important to me – that we will always seek to agree on concrete joint action. Peaceful development in the Balkans, stability in Afghanistan or the democratic reconstruction of Iraq are just a few fields in which we are cooperating at present.

In contrast, developments in the conflict surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme are less encouraging. Europe is also working closely with the US, as well as with Russia and China, to resolve this conflict. Our goal must be to preserve this international solidarity. The confrontational course pursued by Iran at present questions the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as of the international community as a whole.

It is therefore right and necessary that the UN Security Council now address this worrying problem in order to lend the demands on Iran the necessary weight. Iran is still called upon to fulfil them and work together with the international community on cooperative solutions.

Naturally, the Middle East is also the focus of our attention. Due to our history, we bear a special responsibility towards the State of Israel. For this reason, too, we were so shocked by the unspeakable comments made by the Iranian President. They are completely unacceptable and we condemned them in the strongest possible terms.

We will continue to categorically denounce any attempt to deny or relativize the Holocaust and to resolutely oppose all efforts to call into question Israel’s right to exist. The citizens of Israel have a right to live within secure borders and free of terror and fear; our foreign policy will remain irrevocably committed to this goal.

We are very much aware that our bilateral relations with Israel are unique. Our relationship is marked by the barbaric Holocaust crime, as well as by the experience of shaping our present and future together.

During my visit to Israel in February, I heard from many of those I spoke to that we are regarded in Israel as its closest friend after the US. I was pleased and gratified to hear that but it is also an enormous responsibility. We will do everything in our power to live up to this responsibility in future.

That also means that we will continue to work towards a fair and lasting solution in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. I have to say realistically that the victory of the Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections has made it more difficult to find a solution to the conflict.

Together with the US, Russia and the United Nations in the Middle East Quartet, we Europeans have formulated clear criteria for the new government in the Palestinian territories: first of all, recognition of Israel, secondly, renunciation of the use of force and thirdly, compliance with existing obligations entered into between the Palestinian territories and Israel. The key to what happens next lies solely with the new government in the Palestinian territories.

The conflict in the Middle East, the Iranian nuclear programme and the situation in Iraq – unfortunately, these are just a few of the challenges facing us. We will only find viable answers if we manage to pool Europe’s and America’s capabilities and experience. That is – today and in the future – the litmus test for transatlantic relations.

Germany will do everything in its power to live up to the expectations which the international community has of us. We are willing to shoulder responsibility. Especially as we in Germany know from our own experience how vital freedom and democracy are, we will work actively with our partners towards peace, democracy and freedom in the world.

This also includes further strengthening the transatlantic dialogue and German-Israeli relations, fostering Jewish life in Germany and combating anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance. I would like to thank the American Jewish Committee for being such a reliable partner in these efforts.