German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak before a lunch as part of a one day governmental meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, February 16, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BERLIN – Germany’s normalization of relations with Iran are tied to Tehran’s recognition of Israel, according to a letter released on Tuesday.
The letter, written in the name of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration said, “There cannot be normalized, complete relations with Iran so long as Iran does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
The comments, released on Tuesday, were submitted to the head of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group, Volker Beck, in response to a July 6 parliamentary questionnaire.
They were part of a longer statement from Berlin on Iran’s jingoism toward Israel and that country’s abysmal human rights record.
The statement continued, “At the same time, the federal government has an interest in dialogue with Iran’s government over critical topics.”
The Bild-Zeitung reported in July that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Economic Minister Sigmar Gabriel, both Social Democrats, wanted to invite Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to Berlin in the Fall. In response Beck, a Green Party member of the German parliament, called on the Merkel administration to not be lured into a false normalization of diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic.
Steinmeier was an energetic supporter of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action deal with Iran in July and slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his “very coarse” criticism of the nuclear agreement.
Israel’s embassy in Berlin told The Jerusalem Post at the time, “Federal Foreign Minister Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated in [an] interview that certain issues are not to be discussed in public, as is common practice among amicable partners. Along the same lines, what we have to convey to our German partners, we also express directly and not through the media.”
Critics see Germany as sending mixed messages to the Jewish state. Less than a week after the Iran nuclear deal was reached, Gabriel traveled to Iran with a business delegation to commence trade agreements.
In its response to Beck, the German government said it conveyed to Iran’s leaders that the Islamic Republic should recognize Israel’s right to exist and condemned Iran“rocket tests and anti-Israel threats.”
The Merkel administration said it was “very worried about the human rights situation in Iran. Hope for an improvement of the situation under the Rouhani government has until now not been fulfilled.”
Germany cited the “high number of executions, which in 2015 reached a record level with at least 765. In the first six months of 2016 the number of executions was 184.”
The situation of religious minorities also remains difficult, the German government said, especially for the Baha’i community, which faces discrimination.
Beck’s questions to the German government also covered lethal homophobia in the Islamic Republic.
“Homosexuality continues to be penalized with the death penalty,” said the Merkel administration.
The German government said it was last aware of Iran’s execution of a gay person in 2011. “Because the Iranian justice system is nontransparent, it is not possible for the federal government to secure a reliable number regarding how many homosexuals were prosecuted.”
Iran hanged Hassan Afshar, 19, in Arak Prison in Iran’s Markazi Province on July 18, after he was convicted of “forced male-to-male anal intercourse” in early 2015.
According to a British Wikileaks document, Iran has executed 4,000 to 6,000 gays and lesbians between 1979 and 2008. It is unclear why the German government did not cite the number in its answer to Beck.
Beck said it is clear to “everyone in government circles that a high-level state visit from Iran is approaching and the only apparent question is whether at the banquet wine will be allowed. I don’t understand why the federal government remains silent about the visit plans and won’t answer simple questions.”
Beck said that in view of recent tests of rockets designed to destroy Israel, there cannot be a normalization of relations with Iran.
Official trade data showed German exports to Iran – mostly machines and equipment – jumped in the first half of the year following removal of international sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Exports to Iran surged by 15 percent in the first six months of 2016 to 1.13 billion euros, compared to the same time period in 2015, the Federal Statistics Office said.
That compared with an overall rise in German exports of 1.4% in the same period and a fall of 14% in German exports to Iran in 2015.
“There is a huge demand in Iran for plant and equipment,” said Michael Tockuss, head of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, adding that chemical products and electrical engineering were also doing well.
Reuters contributed to this report.