Austrian and Jewish NGOs sounded serious warnings in June about Germany and Austria’s apparent retreat from the Western sanctions regime to pressure Iran to end its illicit nuclear program.
Is this a policy-altering position for the central European countries? The Berlin-based office of the American Jewish Committee issued a statement that an impending change of course in German-Iran business relations seems to be on the rise.
The AJC cited the case of Peter Ramsauer, a former member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet and current Bundestag deputy chairman of the economic committee, who told the Frankfurter Rundschau in June that one must show “Iran its true colors that one has interest” in its business.
He added that one needs a political door opener in international competition in order to survive in Iran’s market.
Deidre Berger, the director of AJC’s Berlin office, sharply rebuked Ramsauer for serving as an advocate for Iran’s economic interests while the Islamic Republic continues to remain wedded to its nuclear program.
As a transportation minister in Merkel’s cabinet, Ramsauer had triggered controversy over the years for imposing punishment on Israel.
He caved to pro-Palestinian deputies in the Bundestag in 2011, terminating the Deutsche Bahn railway company’s participation in a long-planned Israeli railway project connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, because the train line covered a section of disputed West Bank territory.
“This Israeli railway project, which runs through occupied territory is problematic from a foreign policy standpoint and is potentially against international law,” Ramsauer said.
Merkel’s administration remained silent about Ramsauer’s activities on behalf of Iran’s regime.
Austria is set to send its president, Heinz Fischer, to visit Iran.
According to the Vienna-based Stop the Bomb NGO, Fischer’s trip would represent the first head of state to visit Tehran since 2005.
Stop the Bomb spokesman Stefan Schaden said: “It is a shame to pay tribute to a regime whose ‘supreme leader’ questions the Holocaust.
Nothing has changed when it comes to the disastrous human rights situation in Iran except for President [Hassan] Rouhani and Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif’s charm offensive.”
Schaden said a recent June meeting between the Iranian oil minister and the Austrian oil and gas company OMV in Vienna clearly showed what Fischer’s visit was about. “Austrian companies want to do undisturbed business again with the anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynous regime.”
Stop the Bomb seeks to stop Iran’s drive to become a nuclear weapons power.
Germany and Austria were the first countries to court Iran after its 1979 revolution in the early 1980’s.
Austria’s former foreign minister Erwin Lanc jump-started relations with Iran during his visit in 1983.
Germany’s then foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who commenced the policy with Iran in 1984, invoked the notion of “critical dialogue” to rekindle relations with Iran.
The critical part of the dialogue did not lead to improved human rights in Iran, but rather intensified business relations.
Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s foreign minister, made a controversial visit to Iran in April. The round of activity serves to mainstream Iran’s regime.
All of this helps to explain, one could argue, that Germany and Austria are laying the foundation for advancing their business interests without a technical violation of Iran’s sanctions.
Nevertheless, the optics of the pro- Iran activity do not bode well for Israel and international efforts to isolate Iran until it ends its nuclear military ambitions.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on European affairs for The Jerusalem Post and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.