The German Near and Middle East Association (NUMOV), an NGO whose honorary chairman is former German chancellor Gerhard SchrÃ¶der, is promoting billions of euros of trade between German companies and Iran.
NUMOV's Web site displays an invitation to next week's fifth annual German-Middle East Round Table: FOCUS IRAN.
In an e-mail to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Wolfram Trost, a spokesman for the Siemens energy giant, confirmed that "Siemens will participate within the framework of the NUMOV energy round table - focus Iran - on May 5 in Berlin."
Ilan Mor, the chargÃ© d'affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, told the Post, "We are in a sensitive and delicate time period, and promoting economic trade with Iran is false. It sends the message to Teheran that it is business as usual, and these times cannot be viewed as usual. Such conferences undermine the unity of the international community to pressure Iran to stop its activities in the nuclear field.
"We continue to be in contact with the German government regarding German-Iranian trade," Mor said.
The ballooning German-Iranian trade relationship has been an ongoing source of friction between Israel and the federal republic. Trade between Germany and Iran totaled almost â‚¬4 billion in 2008, a 10.5% increase from the previous year.
The NUMOV forum to expand trade with Iran follows SchrÃ¶der's controversial visit to Teheran in February. SchrÃ¶der, considered an opponent of sanctions to force Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, spoke at the Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
Pictures from that visit on NUMOV's Web site show SchrÃ¶der laughing while greeting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani, head of the Iranian parliament. While attending the Munich security conference in February, Larijani defended Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial statements. "In Iran, we don't have the same sensitivities," he said.
The NUMOV Web site states that "due to our close connections to government and ministerial departments, we are well positioned to represent the interests of our member companies."
However, when asked in a telephone conversation on Tuesday about German-Iranian business relations, Helene Rang, the CEO of NUMOV, said, "We have never been political" and "do not engage in political work."
Rang said NUMOV organized the "same event last year with Iran" and cited the "opening of an American bank" in Iran as an rationale for trade with Teheran.
She declined to answer a Post's e-mail query regarding Germany's responsibility to Israel and engaging in business with a regime that questions the authenticity of the Holocaust.
"Insulting Germans" is how Rang termed written questions from the Post about whether NUMOV's activities with a country that denies the Holocaust contradicted Germany's special responsibility to the Jewish state.
"We are of the opinion that sanctions in the economic sphere cannot contribute to solving problems. We are convinced that political problems must be solved politically and through dialogue. The fact that this has now been initiated by the new administration in the US meets with our approval," Rang wrote, in a letter sent to the Post.
Bundestag MPs Joachim HÃ¶rster (Christian Democratic Union) and Elke Hoff (Free Democratic Party) serve on NUMOV's board of directors. Hoff spokesman Rene Hoffmann told the Post that Hoff "cannot in the name of NUMOV" issue statements.
Hoffmann added that NUMOV's opposition to economic sanctions was the position of Rang as CEO and not a statement from Hoff.
When asked if Hoff opposed sanctions on Iran, Hoffmann said he could not reach Hoff because she was travelling in the US.
HÃ¶rster declined to comment.
Jonathan Weckerle, a spokesman from the nonpartisan NGO Stop the Bomb, which seeks to modify German political and business behavior to dramatically curtail trade with Teheran, told the Post that "Obama's tough diplomacy policy is risky, but German technology deliveries are already pulling the ground from under it. Iran deals such as that of Bayerngas [the biggest municipal gas procurement platform in Germany] trigger no critical response among German politicians or the public, and organization's like NUMOV shamelessly advertise in public for even better German- Iranian economic ties.
"The chancellor's words to the Israeli public were apparently empty, and without consequences, especially as resistance to sanctions comes primarily from the Christian Democratic Union-led Economics Ministry."
Teheran's ambassador to Berlin, Ali Reza Sheikh Altar, said this week, "Representatives of 200 German companies and numerous Iranian industrial managers will discuss ways to further boost bilateral industrial ties, especially in the sphere of steel and automobile," according to the Iranian Fars News Agency.
The Fars report cited DÃ¼sseldorf as the location for the NUMOV forum, and highlighted "major Iranian infrastructure projects" involving such German engineering and energy firms as the Linde Group, BASF, Lurgi AG, ThyssenKrupp, Siemens, MAN AG, Mercedes, Volkswagen, and ZF Friedrichshafen.
NUMOV declined to comment on whether it organized events in DÃ¼sseldorf and Berlin.
Dania Kreibich, a spokeswoman from the industrial gases and engineering company Linde, wrote in an e-mail to the Post that Linde would participate in the NUMOV forum. A spokesman from Linde, Uwe Wolfinger, said the company was active in the Iranian petrochemical sector.
Klaus Pepperhoff, a spokesman for ThyssenKrupp, told the Post the company participated in last week's 14th International Exhibition of Oil, Gas, and Petrochemical Industries in Teheran. He said ThyssenKrupp's "total revenue with Iran is well under â‚¬100 million." He declined to cite an exact number.
Asked about the German-Israeli "special relationship," Pepperhoff said, "Germany has a special responsibility" to Israel, but "whether a company has a special responsibility I cannot say off the top of my head."
Alexander Wilke, a ThyssenKrupp spokesman, wrote in an e-mail to the Post that he could not say whether his company would be represented at the NUMOV-Iran Forum because "200,000 employees work worldwide for ThyssenKrupp."
"Spot transactions" is how transport engineering giant MAN spokesman Dominque Nadelhofer termed the volume of business activity between his company and Teheran. He told the Post that he "will not speak about numbers" with respect to revenue, but said that MAN supplies Iran with trucks ranging in weight from six to 50 tons, and both urban and extra-urban buses.
MAN, according to Nadelhofer, also provides Iran with "diesel engines for power plants and ships," as well as compressors and turbo-compressors for its gas industry and pipelines.
Nadelhofer said MAN had a responsibility to the Jewish state and to unearth the firm's Nazi-era conduct. Asked if there was a contradiction in doing business with a regime that seeks to obliterate Israel and denies the Holocaust, Nadelhofer said he "sees no contradiction" because MAN had dealt with its Nazi history.
MAN was "checking" whether the company would participate in the NUMOV forum, and could not comment, he said.