Former German envoy to Israel blasts ex-chancellor Schr?der's Iran lobby work

Germans, Iranians protest against pro-Iran trade group in Berlin.

BERLIN - Rudolf Dressler, a former ambassador to Israel, on Monday slammed ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder's efforts to expand trade with Iran. "Visits of Western politicians in Iran, like the one of Gerhard Schröder in February of this year, thwart the current efforts toward a solution of the conflict, even if they are declared private visits," Dressler, who like Schröder is a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), said in statement. Dressler's public rebuke of Schröder, coupled with his criticism of Germany's roughly €4 billion in annual trade with Teheran, represent a remarkable break from a rather meek SPD posture toward sanctioning Iran because of its nuclear enrichment program. While declaring solidarity with Israel in scores of resolutions and events honoring the 6Oth anniversary of the Jewish state's creation, SPD Bundestag deputies have declined to enact legislation to curtail the mushrooming German-Iranian trade. Dressler was the Schröder government's ambassador to Israel from 2000 to 2005. "The current problem with Iran is not only between the German government and Iran, but a problem of the European Union and worldwide," he told The Jerusalem Post. However, Germany "has a past that the other countries do not have" and the federal republic "must have a special sensitivity" when dealing with Israel, he said. Dressler has signed an on-line-petition of the German chapter of Stop the Bomb, which seeks a significant reduction in the German-Iranian economic relationship and an end to government credit subsidies supporting exports to the Islamic republic. Schröder's role as honorary chairman of the German Near and Middle East Association (NUMOV) - and NUMOV's sponsorship of conferences in Düsseldorf and Berlin in April and May to promote trade with Iran - sparked Dressler's criticism of the organization and of Schröder. Dressler himself serves on NUMOV's advisory board. "I don't consider it opportune to hold such advertising events at this particular time. The current negotiation phase requires that one make clear to the Iranian regime the price it will pay if it continues to violate decisions of the international community with its nuclear program," Dressler said. Helene Rang, the CEO of NUMOV, declined to comment on Dressler's criticism. When asked whether she considered Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to have denied the Holocaust and to have threatened to wipe Israel off the map, she wrote in an e-mail to the Post, "I belong to the generation that did not experience the war." "It helps Israel more when people approach this difficult matter, which has existed for over 60 years, soberly and with the goal of a solution. You should especially treat people like me, who were born after the war and nonpolitically fulfill a task, differently and appreciate the mutual efforts for the entire region," Rang added. "I have met many people in Israel who still acknowledge my efforts and I will therefore continue to be active for Israel in the same way as for all other countries, although I have also been insulted by the other side in such a way that it sometimes makes it difficult, especially after the Lebanon war, where Israel was subjected to many accusations that I certainly don't need to repeat here," she said. NUMOV also sponsors German-Israeli trade events. Rang opposes economic sanctions on Iran. Her energetic efforts to promote German-Iranian trade prompted Iranian exiles, human rights activists, and Israel supporters to demonstrate on Tuesday in front of NUMOV's office in downtown Berlin. Household company names like Siemens AG and Linde AG, which are involved in Iran's energy sector, attended the recent NUMOV conference in Berlin. Fathiyeh Naghibzadeh, a member of Stop the Bomb who fled Iran in 1985 due to persecution of women and now lives in Germany, told the protesters, "This regime doesn't care about reform, diplomacy or dialogue. It denies the Holocaust and is preparing a new one. No one who does business with this regime or carries out dialogue can claim concern about the people in Iran, about Israel or about world peace. No, at the NUMOV conference, which is taking place behind these doors, it's about quite mundane profits. A German government that permits such conferences and such business, though, can at best be accused of hypocrisy - if not of ideological complicity." Bundestag deputies Joachim Hörster (Christian Democratic Union) and Elke Hoff (Free Democratic Party) serve on NUMOV's board of directors. Hoff spokesman Rene Hoffmann told the Post that Hoff declines to comment. When asked about Dressler's criticism of NUMOV and whether it has a "special responsibility" to Israel, Hörster wrote in an e-mail to the Post, "NUMOV is a politically neutral association that cannot be classified under any political heading. It is therefore possible that members such as the former chancellor, Mr. Gerhard Schröder, or the former German ambassador to Israel, Mr. Dressler (both SPD), have opposing viewpoints." Dr. Matthias Küntzel, a leading German expert on Iranian-German trade, told the Post, "The Focus Iran event by the Near and Middle East Association is a slap in the face to the Americans, British and French, who are trying to pressure Iran in the area of energy technology. Taking the side of an anti-Semitic regime is hardly surprising for an association that is proud to this day of its Nazi roots. NUMOV was founded in 1934 in the service of Nazism as the German Orient Association and was financially supported by Ribbentrop and Goebbels. At that time, cooperation with Iran - as an 'Axis of Aryans' - was already a primary goal. "The German government's deafening silence is, however, surprising. Unfortunately, we can only see it as agreement with the NUMOV event and confirmation of a special German-Iranian relationship," Küntzel said.