‘Germany is encouraging trade with Teheran’

Israeli diplomat slams government and chamber of commerce for "giving Iran a feeling of support for its policies."

BERLIN – Emmanuel Nahshon, the deputy chief of mission for the Israeli Embassy in Germany, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that two seminars jointly sponsored by the German Economic Ministry and the city of Bayreuth’s chamber of commerce to promote German-Iranian trade “give Iran a feeling of support for its policies, including its ruthless and brutal repression of human rights” in the Islamic Republic.
On Wednesday, in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth, the local chamber of commerce held two workshops addressing “export control to Iran” and “inspection and certification for export to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria and Syria.” According to a description of the seminars, “markets in the Middle East have enjoyed considerable growth in recent years and remain very interesting to German exporters.” The Federal Economic Ministry was listed as a sponsor of the seminars.
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The Post revealed last week that German export and import trade volume increased in 2010. Despite Chancellor Angela Merkel’s repeated promises to Israel to reduce trade with Teheran, German imports from Iran climbed to 690 million in the first 10 months of last year, surpassing by 28% the total 2009 import volume of 538 million euros, according to figures provided by the German Federal Statistics Office. German exports to Iran rose 5% to 3.164 billion euros between January and October 2010, compared to 3.013 billion euros during the same period in 2009.
When asked about Nahshon’s criticisms of the seminars, a spokesman for the German Economic Ministry in coordination with the German Foreign Ministry wrote the Post by e-mail on Friday, saying “the German government is still actively approaching German companies within the framework of its discouragement strategy, indicating the political risks involved with Iran business deals, and requesting German companies to voluntarily check, in this respect, their business relations with Iran.”
The spokesman added that the “German Economics Ministry once again emphatically affirms that Israel’s security is nonnegotiable for the German federal government.”
After the Post revealed that the German Economics Ministry facilitated a gas deal between the engineering firm Steiner Prematechnik Gastec and Iran in 2008, the Merkel administration implemented the so-called discouragement strategy, a non-binding policy to reduce German-Iranian trade. The Steiner deal allowed the company to build three plants for converting natural gas to liquid fuel in Iran, and caused diplomatic tensions between Israel and Germany.
Critics say increases in German-Iranian trade show that the discouragement policy has backfired and the Bundestag ought to pass unilateral sanctions to curb German-Iranian trade.
In a separate e-mail to the Post on Wednesday, the Economic Ministry spokesman wrote that the Bayreuth “chamber of commerce contributes to informing companies about adhering to the sanctions regime against Iran... With respect to the prohibited as well as allowed trade according to the sanctions regime, the chamber of commerce serves a justified interest for the companies.”
Asked about Israel’s criticisms, Anja Hecht, a spokeswoman for the Bayreuth Chamber of Commerce, declined to issue a comment on Friday to the Post.
Asked whether the chamber has a special responsibility toward the Jewish state because of the Holocaust, Hecht told the Post on Wednesday that the chamber is “definitely anchored in recognition and appreciation of the special responsibility from German history” based on the federal constitution.
Hecht noted that the chamber of commerce “can understand the criticism of Iran” but “is not responsible for political statements and supports the policies of the federal government toward Iran.”
Dr. Diana Gregor, a political analyst with Réalité-EU, a NGO that tracks European- Iranian economic relations and advocates crippling sanctions against the Islamic Republic, told the Post on Thursday that “these seminars are aimed at motivating companies to enter into and conclude new business with Iran. The seminars also serve as strategy platforms to discuss ways in which businesses can circumvent possible Iran sanctions... Iran is an extremely interesting and important trading partner for Germany – the seminars are therefore a welcome vehicle to promote and exploit economic relations that are already good.”
Gregor said, “What kind of signal is the German government sending with the presentation of such seminars a week before the next P5+1 Iran discussions in Istanbul? How can the federal government justify these seminars while German journalists in Iran are being held as political hostages? Such behavior is extremely problematic and counterproductive and sends the wrong signals.”
Meanwhile, the German chapter of the NGO, Stop the Bomb, protested in front of the Bayreuth Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
Niklas Anzinger, a member of Stop the Bomb and a student at the University of Bayreuth, told the Post on Saturday that 15 students demonstrated against the chamber’s seminars “to circumvent sanctions” against Iran.
Anzinger, who spearheaded the protest, said the action aims to send a message against the Economic Ministry’s support for the seminars. He also said the protest called for Iran to release the two incarcerated German journalists.
The journalists, Marcus Hellwig and Jens Koch, work for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper and were arrested in mid-October in Iran for interviewing family members of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery.