German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel
German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel Reuters

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who is also Germany's economy minister, on Sunday said Iran must recognize Israel in order to have economic relations with Germany.

“Questioning [Israel's] right to existence is something that we Germans cannot accept," Gabriel said at the start of a three-day visit to Tehran, according to the German dpa news agency.

"You can't have a good economic relationship with Germany in the long term if we don't discuss such issues and try to move them along," he told a gathering of German and Iranian businesspeople in Tehran.

Gabriel, who will hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and several ministers during the visit, said he wanted to talk to human rights representatives in a country that the United Nations says is guilty of human rights violations against women, religious minorities, journalists and activists, Reuters reported.

By traveling to Tehran with a delegation of industry group representatives and company officials, Gabriel sends a strong signal that Germany wants to quickly rebuild economic and political ties with Iran, the news agency noted.

Under an agreement struck on Tuesday, sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and United Nations will be lifted in exchange for Iran agreeing long-term curbs on a nuclear program that the West thought was intended to make a nuclear bomb. Tehran has always denied seeking nuclear arms.

Gabriel praised the agreement as "a first big step" and said it was now possible for trade between the countries to increase.

"The agreement reached between the E3+3 and Iran in Vienna has laid the foundations for a normalization of economic relations with Iran," Gabriel said, referring to the six world powers - normally called the P5+1 - which negotiated with Iran.

"The precondition for this is that the steps foreseen in the agreement are now implemented," he added, according to Reuters.

Israel, meanwhile, continues to warn against the agreement with Iran. On Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's latest speech mocking the U.S. and declaring "Death to Israel" proves the futility of the Iranian nuclear deal with the West.

"If anyone thought that the far-reaching concessions to Iran will change its policy, they received an overwhelmingly aggressive response from the defiant speech from the ruler of Iran, Khamenei, over the weekend," Netanyahu said.

''The Iranians did not even make an effort to hide the fact that they will take advantage of the hundreds of billions they receive in this agreement to equip their terror machine." 

According to the Prime Minister, the Iranians have said explicitly that they would continue their struggle in the United States and its allies.

"Today Iran is arming terrorist organizations with missiles - tomorrow they will have the ability to arm them and their weapons will be even more dangerous," he noted. "The agreement that was signed is paving the way for Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons - either within a decade, if Iran decides to comply with the agreement, and much earlier if it decides to break it, as it is wont to do." 

Netanyahu stressed that ''the alternative we proposed repeatedly to a failed agreement is to continue strengthening sanctions on Iran and conditioning the removal of the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program only if Iran changes its policies" - referring, perhaps, to U.S. President Barack Obama's repeated claims that neither Netanyahu nor anyone else has offered him a better alternative. 

"As long as the Iranian leadership continues to encourage cries of 'Death to America' and 'Death to Israel', there is no reason to make concessions to it," he concluded.