Schr?der's Teheran visit kicks up storm

Former German chancellor tells Iran Holocaust was "a historical fact;" Jewish groups irate over trip.

schroeder ahmadinejad 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
schroeder ahmadinejad 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder - an opponent of sanctions against Iran - met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Teheran on Saturday. The visit of Schröder, who led a Social Democratic government between 1998 and 2005, was sharply criticized by the Central Council of Jews in German and members of the German parliament. "Mr. Schröder inflicts great damage on the reputation of the German government and the Federal Republic of Germany, Stephan Kramer, the council's general secretary, told the Neuen Presse newspaper. The visit showed support for the Iranian regime and a dictator, Kramer said. "In the interests of human rights," Schröder should cancel the meeting, he said. Schröder arrived on Thursday and coordinated his four-day visit with the German Foreign Ministry. According to Schröder's office, he is conducting a "private visit." German media have reported that Schröder opposes sanctions to force a suspension of the Iranian regime's nuclear uranium enrichment program. Schröder spoke at the Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce on Saturday. When asked if his talk at the business group contradicted the Merkel administration's sanctions policy, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post she did "not want to judge" Schröder's anti-sanctions strategy. It was a "private trip" and the former chancellor's "decision" to travel to the Islamic republic, the spokeswoman said. Schröder told the Iranian Industry and Commerce group that "the Holocaust is an historic fact and there is no sense in denying this unparalleled crime." But the new Iranian ambassador in Berlin, Aliresa Sheikh-Attar, said, "The relations between Teheran and Berlin are too important to be overshadowed by a subject such as the Holocaust." Annual trade between Germany and Iran totals roughly €4 billion, making the federal republic Teheran's most important European trade partner. In January to November 2008, German exports to Iran grew by 10.5 percent over the same period a year earlier. Last year's commerce included 39 "dual-use" contracts, according to Germany's export control office. Dual-use equipment and technology can be used for both military and civilian purposes. The Merkel administration and the Bundestag have steadfastly rejected legislation to curtail the mushrooming trade relationship. Muhammad Nahawandian, the president of the Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, said, "To find common solutions, we shouldn't forget the recent massacre of people in Gaza and should internationally condemn Israel for it," according to Reuters. Michail Kortschemkin, director of the East European Gas Analysis agency, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily that Schröder is "presenting himself like a sort of Gazprom influence agent" in Iran. Soon after stepping down as chancellor, Schröder accepted Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom's nomination for the post of the head of the shareholders' committee of Nord Stream AG, raising questions about a conflict of interest. The late US congressman Tom Lantos, then-chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, likened Schröder to a "political prostitute" for his behavior. Commentators suggest that he is engaging in lobbying activity in Iran to increase business between Iran and Gazprom. Eckart von Klaeden, Christian Democratic Union foreign policy spokesman, urged Schröder on Friday to cancel his visit with Ahmadinejad to avoid "flattering" the Iranian president. Green Party MP Omid Nouripour, who was born in Teheran, said Schröder "should be campaigning actively for the SPD [Social Democratic Party], which is in such bad shape, rather than passively for Ahmadinejad." Schröder's itinerary has meetings with a who's who of Holocaust deniers and opponents of Israel's right to exist, including with Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, who opened the "World Without Zionism" conference in Teheran in 2006 and cast doubt on the "official version of the Holocaust." Another meeting is set with Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, who said early this month at the annual Munich Security Conference, "In Iran, we don't have the same sensitivities" regarding whether the Holocaust occurred. Asked if the German Foreign Ministry condemned Larijani's comments, a spokeswoman told the Post that she was not present at the conference and therefore "could not say" if Social Democratic Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir rebuked Larijani for denying the Holocaust, which is illegal in Germany. Schröder also intends to meet with former Iranian president Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who asserted in an anti-Israeli speech in 2001 that the Islamic world could sustain a nuclear strike, but one atomic bomb would obliterate Israel. In his speech, Rafsanjani said if the world of Islam obtained nuclear weapons technology it could destroy Israel.