Analysis: Why Germany is the weakest Western link in nuclear talks with Iran

The negotiations coincide with this year’s celebration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany.

June 28, 2015 06:52
3 minute read.
Nuclear Talks

The P5+1 – China, France, Germany, the US, the UK and Russia – prepare to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at nuclear talks in Lausanne.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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With the Iran nuclear talks entering the final stretch in Vienna, Germany’s role in the negotiations to end Tehran’s illicit nuclear weapons program has largely escaped scrutiny.

The negotiations coincide with this year’s celebration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany.

First the sphere of economics: Dr. Michael Rubin, a foreign policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, captured Berlin’s lack of backbone: “Germany has always put mercantile considerations above human rights and a quest for peace. It has long played a double game on Iran and sanctions, but there was only so far Berlin would go to seek short-term profit when the international community still upheld sanctions on Iran.”

He added, “But with Obama signaling an end to sanctions – even if he says their suspension is conditional – Germany is moving in to rake in the big bucks from Iran’s ayatollahs.”

Since the world powers – Germany, France, US, UK, China and Russia – reached a tentative agreement with Tehran in 2013, there has been no shortage of German politicians and businesspeople bending over backward to court Iran’s regime.

Last month, the Islamic Republic’s oil minister Bijan Zangeneh met with Germany’s Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel to discuss investments in Iran. As vice chancellor, Gabriel is the No. 2 political leader after Chancellor Angela Merkel. Business representatives from Volkswagen and the engineering giants the Linde Group and Siemens also held talks with Zangeneh.

The burst of commercial activity in May prompted a spokeswoman from Stop the Bomb, an organization opposed to Tehran’s nuclear program, to denounce flourishing Iran-German relations.

“German companies and their lobby organizations are undermining the pressure on the Iranian regime with the support of the Federal government. This makes a bad deal with Iran very likely,” the NGO’s Ulrike Becker said.

In the absence of pressure to influence a change in Iran’s behavior, there will be a “nuclear bomb for an anti-Semitic regime that is the most important supporter of international Islamist terrorism, which suppresses its own people massively, denies the Holocaust, threatens Israel with destruction and executes homosexuals,” she added.

Michael Tockuss, a spokesman for the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce Association in Hamburg, estimates that yearly exports to Iran could rise to €5 billion or €6b. after a final agreement. The Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Germany envisions bilateral trade rising to €12b. annually if sanctions are lifted.

Back to the realm of power politics.

The sharp contrast between German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and France’s top diplomat Laurent Fabius underscores Berlin’s feeble posture. While in Washington in March, Steinmeier lashed out at Senate Republicans for their letter to Iran’s Supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. The letter put Khamenei on notice that Congress could override a lousy agreement.

“Obviously mistrust is growing...on the Iranian side if we are really serious with the negotiations,” said Steinmeier, adding that he hoped “the letter of the 47 senators no longer causes any disturbance in the negotiations.”

Politicians and journalists have sharply criticized Steinmeier for his deferential attitude to dictators.

Sen. John McCain accused Steinmeier of being “in the Neville Chamberlain school of diplomacy” for his reluctance to take a robust posture against Vladimir Putin’s jingoism in Ukraine.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the prominent columnist John Vinocur noted, “I asked a high-level European security official to evaluate Germany’s position on Ukraine.

He said, ‘As for Steinmeier, there have been instances at international discussions where he seems to be pitching for the other side.’’’ Fabius, on the other hand, tossed a monkey wrench into the 2013 negotiations with Tehran because he thought Iran’s rulers had hoodwinked the world powers. He famously termed the nuclear talks “a fool’s game.”

Should Israel be worried that Germany is a paper tiger in the Iran talks? Does the Merkel administration have a responsibility to live up to its declarations that Israel’s security is the raison d’être of Germany? A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry wrote The Jerusalem Post by email last week, saying, “The Federal government stands in frequent and intensive dialogue with the US, as with Israel, on questions of security.”

Benjamin Weinthal reports on European affairs and is a fellow of The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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