Israel wants to strengthen ties with Lithuania to counterbalance EU criticism
Visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will seek to strengthen bilateral ties with Lithuania to counterbalance, in his opinion, the European Union's unfounded criticism over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
"I want to thank you for the strong position you've taken in forums of the EU on behalf of the truth, on behalf of Israel, on behalf of decency," the Israeli prime minister told a joint press conference with Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis in Vilnius on Thursday.
"Israel is often mistreated by the EU in Brussels, there are many distortions that are leveled at us, and it is refreshing to see that you take a stand of clarity, of truth and of courage, and we discussed how that can be expanded," Netanyahu added.
Traditionally, Lithuania is among the staunchest diplomatic supporters of Israel in Europe, in part because of the Holocaust history and the coordination of positions with the United States.
Last December, Lithuania initiated an invitation for Netanyahu to come to Brussels to meet with EU ministers, which angers some Community officials.
As soon as Netanyahu arrived in Vilnius, EU officials in Brussels issued a statement condemning Israel's plans to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Israel's actions were earlier on Thursday slammed by dozens of protesters outside the Lithuanian government's building in central Vilnius.
Pressure on Iran
Netanyahu said he was glad over the fact that Lithuania took "a very sober position on the question of the Iran deal".
Earlier this year, the United States pulled out of the deal on lifting sanctions for Iran in exchange for its nuclear program restrictions.
Israel says concessions only led to Iran's more aggressive actions. "It was a terrible deal," Netanyahu said.
He also welcomed news earlier in the day that several European air companies will stop flights to Iran due to American sanctions.
"Today we learned that three major carriers – BA, KLM and Air France – discontinued their activity in Iran. That's good. More should follow, more will follow because Iran should not be rewarded for it's aggression in the region, for its attempt to spread terrorism," the Israeli prime minister said.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis called Israel Lithuania's strategic partner in the Middle East and expressed hope that this visit will step up bilateral relations.
According to the Lithuanian prime minister, key priorities include strengthening bilateral economic relations and stepping up intergovernmental cooperation, therefore, it would be worthwhile to set up an intergovernmental cooperation commission to give momentum to these processes.