Germans protest against gas deal with Iran

Only four Bundestag deputies come out against €100m. contract.

Iran natural gas 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iran natural gas 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Outrage over a €100 million plus liquefied natural gas deal between German engineering firm SPG Steiner-Prematechnik-Gastec and Iran prompted roughly 150 pro-Israel German demonstrators to rally at the main marketplace in the city of Siegen in North Rhine-Westphalia on Saturday. Dr. Kazem Moussavi, an Iranian living in exile in Germany and spokesman for the German chapter of the Iranian Green party, told the protesters that Steiner had reached the deal with the Iranian firm Sahel Consultant Engineering, which, he said, was controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, according to the US Treasury Department. A Steiner employee told The Jerusalem Post that company president Bernd Steiner was on a business trip and unavailable for comment. The company also has US customers, the employee said. The German-Iranian gas contract to build three plants in Iran to liquefy natural gas has reignited public debate on the sincerity of the German's government's pledge to protect the existence of the Jewish state and to isolate Iran economically. The gas deal was spearheaded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's undersecretary in the Economics Ministry, Hartmut Schauerte, who boasted in a regional newspaper in Siegen about his "pesky" lobbying activity to finalize the deal. Schauerte is a MP in Merkel's governing Christian Democratic Union party. The Post first revealed the influence peddling scandal with Iran in late July. As a result, Aaron Abramovich, director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, blasted Germany's economic support to the Iranian regime. "There should be an intent, especially on the part of a leading country like Germany, to end all commercial dealings with Iran," Abramovich told Israel Radio. In March, Merkel assured lawmakers at the Knesset that Germany would continue to divest from Iran because of its nuclear weapons program and declared the security of Israel to be "nonnegotiable" for German national interests. The next act played out within the German Economics Ministry and business sector, after Merkel's administration approved a dramatic increase of applications to conduct trade with Iran. As of late July, almost 2,000 German-Iranian transactions have been given the government green light; a 63 percent increase in deals approved as compared with the same period in 2007. During both the preparation phase for Merkel's address to the Knesset and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Berlin in February, cabinet member Schauerte was energetically lobbying the German export control agency BAFA to approve the gas deal with Iran. For the protesters in Siegen, a broad-based coalition of Jewish and non-Jewish organizations who have built a common front against what they view as an overly cozy relationship between Iran and Germany, Merkel's attempt to distance herself from the gas deal failed to dispel the rising anger over her administration's role in bolstering Iran's infrastructure and regime. "It is a scandal that the German government here fails to act and that trade such as with the Siegen firm Steiner is possible and not simply stopped," said Roger Bückert from the "Pro-Israel Initiative Never Again," the main organizer of the protest in Siegen. The energy sector, particularly liquefied natural gas, is, according to sanctions experts, central to forcing Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has repeatedly highlighted the natural gas-to-liquefied gas sector as a key pressure point in modifying Iranian behavior. Stephan J. Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany who was born in Siegen, said, "Whoever delivers modern technology to Iran guarantees its [regime's] retention of power and becomes an accomplice" in supporting the Iranian regime. "German governmental credit guarantees should not be reduced, rather completely abolished" with respect to insuring German trade activity with Iran, he said. Kramer also demanded the immediate dismissal of Hartmut Schauerte. While neither the Merkel administration nor the Bundestag has enacted legislation to restrict deals such as the Steiner one or to end government credit guarantees protecting German investments in Iran, a small group of politicians objected to the Steiner deal. Gitta Connemann, a CDU MP who serves on the executive committee of the German-Israeli parliamentary caucus, told the Post, "I consider the deal politically damaging and morally questionable, because it is about a shipment to Iran. Its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has not only threatened to erase Israel from the map, but also undertakes efforts to realize the threat."