(photo credit: AP)
BERLIN – The Austrian chapter of the European-based Stop the Bomb coalition is slated to protest the visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki to Vienna on Sunday.
The meeting with Mottaki’s Austrian counterpart, Michael Spindelegger of the conservative People’s Party, has sparked domestic and US criticism of Austria’s overly cordial foreign policy toward the Islamic Republic.
According to the Austrian daily Der Standard
, the US government sharply criticized on Friday the planned meeting and press conference between Spindelegger and Mottaki as a “bad idea.”
The US is “upset” about Spindelegger’s decision to depart from the UN Security Council strategy to speak as a coordinated voice against Iran in order to hold talks with Mottaki. Austria is currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council.
The US criticism of Spindelegger suggested he is jeopardizing the council’s efforts to crack down on Iran’s nuclear program with a fourth round of UN sanctions. Mottaki is on a whirlwind diplomatic tour to convince Security Council members to not penalize Iran.
Spindelegger told Der Standard
that other Security Council members were informed of the planned visit, and defended his decision as part of an ongoing dialogue with Teheran. The Austrian Foreign Ministry’s embrace of Mottaki has outraged a broad swath of Austrian intellectuals, organizations fighting anti-Semitism and racism, the Austrian Jewish community and the Vienna-based Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDK-I).
Mottaki was a principal figure at the infamous Iranian Holocaust denial conference in 2006. He delivered the opening address at a government-sponsored event where participants both denied the Holocaust and cast skepticism on whether German-controlled Europe murdered 6 million Jews and on the existence of gas chambers in extermination camps.
Elfriede Jelinek, the Austrian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004 and a supporter of Stop the Bomb, said in statement on Friday, “A state like Iran, that suppresses its domestic opposition often [employing methods] including torture and executions, agitates against another country, the State of Israel, in Nazi-style, and threatens it with eradication, does not meet even minimal civilized standards of conduct. Welcoming one of the highest representatives of a state like this should be vociferously condemned.”
Madeleine Petrovic, head of the Green Party in Lower Austria, said in the Stop the Bomb statement, “It is a slap in the face of Holocaust survivors when such a man is being invited by the Austrian government.”
Simone Dinah Hartmann, a spokeswoman for Stop the Bomb, slammed the Austrian Foreign Ministry for meeting with Mottaki and chalked up the diplomatic parley as a marriage of economic interests.
“Austria is one of the few countries that throughout the last year has expanded its exports to Iran. In 2009, commodities worth €350 million were exported to Iran, which amounts to a growth of 6 percent while Austria’s total exports dropped about 20% due to the economic crisis,” Hartmann said.
Stop the Bomb has spearheaded a public awareness campaign over the years to curtail Austrian-Iranian trade and create support for the pro-democracy movement in Iran. Political observers credit Stop the Bomb’s aggressive campaign with compelling the Austrian oil and gas giant OMV to nix its agreement – worth €22 billion – signed in April 2007 to produce liquefied natural gas from Iran’s South Pars gas field and issue a moratorium on investments in Iran.
The Iranian exile community is also outraged. Hiwa Bahrami, a spokesman for PDK-I, issued a public letter to Spindelegger asking, “How can you justify the invitation of the foreign minister of a terror regime to political prisoners, and to relatives of the men and women murdered by the regime, and also to the Austrian public? Instead of legitimizing the regime with such action, you should support the secular and democratic opposition in Iran.”
Mottaki’s visit was also the subject of the popular National Review Online American blog “The Corner.”
Jay Nordlinger termed Mottaki a “chilling piece of work” and ridiculed the Austrian government for its appeasement politics.
“I know a little something about Austrian officialdom too. I don’t say
that the rendezvous in Vienna will be as lovey-dovey as the rendezvous
in Harare. But I’m afraid the atmosphere won’t exactly be adversarial
either. You know?” Nordlinger wrote.
Zimbabwe’s authoritarian President Robert Mugabe welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Harare last week.
Austria was the first Western European nation to jump-start diplomatic
talks with the Islamic Republic, in 1984, and has gone to great efforts
to solidify a relationship with Iran. Stop the Bomb is slated to rally
on Sunday at 10 a.m. at Vienna’s Minoritenplatz under the banner “Stop
Ahmadinejad and Mottaki! Stop courting the Iranian regime!”