Did Germany illicitly strike a gas deal with Iran?

German-Israeli friendship society: Natural gas deal "not compatible" with Merkel's Knesset address.

Iran natural gas 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iran natural gas 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
A parliamentary state secretary in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet appears to have acted illegally in influencing the country's Export Control office (BAFA) to approve a €100 million-plus deal for liquefied natural gas with Iran. "I've become an annoyance," boasted Hartmut Schauerte, a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) member of parliament and state secretary for the Economics Ministry, in an article in the Siegener Zeitung newspaper about his efforts to secure a permit for the massive gas contract. The Export Control office concluded after a 12-month investigation that plans by German engineering firm Steiner-Prematechnik-Gastec to build equipment for converting natural gas to a liquid did not violate sanctions against the Islamic Republic. "Because the equipment would be built here and then sent to Iran, that work does not fall under any existing sanctions involving Iran," said Holger Beutel, a spokesman for the government office. SPG-Steiner-Prematechnik-Gastec will construct three facilities for the Iranians to liquefy natural gas. Critics say politicized treatment of Teheran undercuts the CDU's stated goal to isolate the Islamic Republic. After basking in a showy celebration of Germany's close ties with Israeli politicians in March, Merkel said in an address to the Knesset that "Germany will push for further sanctions" on Iran, and, "This historic responsibility is part of my country's fundamental policy. It means that for me, as a German chancellor, Israel's security is non-negotiable." A giant question mark now hovers over Merkel's much-praised speech to the Knesset. "This business deal is not compatible with the words of the chancellor in the Knesset," and the gas contract should be rescinded, Dr. Johannes Gerster, head of the German-Israeli friendship society and a former CDU member of parliament, told The Jerusalem Post. Merkel's CDU colleague Schauerte doggedly peddled his clout at the Export Control office to obtain the contract for SPG Steiner-Prematechnik-Gastec; the firm is located in his election district in Sauerland, North Rhine-Westphalia. "Without Hartmut Schauerte, nothing would have happened. We would still be waiting", said Bernd Steiner, chief executive officer of Steiner. Export Control office spokesman Beutel told the Post Schauerte's lobbying activity was "exceptional," and that permit approval should be determined "independently" of political influence. The Export Control office has internal policies that, according to Beutel, prohibit "illegitimate influence." When asked if Schauerte violated Export Control office regulations barring external interference, Beutel said there was an "internal review to examine all cases that are mentioned in the press." Schauerte's personal assistant, Dr. Armgard Wippler from the Economics Ministry, told the Post Schauerte "does not wish to add any comments beyond what appeared" in the Siegener newspaper article. Ulrich Wilhelm, who is a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU) and spokesman for Merkel, declined to return multiple Post telephone queries. The CSU is the sister party of the CDU within the Federal government. Gerster, from the German-Israeli friendship society, was director of the CDU political foundation Konrad Adenauer in Jerusalem between 1997 and 2006. He said that if Schauerte helped secure the contract for Steiner, he "should be dismissed from the German government." During a visit with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in February 2008, the CDU's German Parliament President Norbert Lammert said, "The special relationship between our two countries goes beyond reliable bilateral relations," and stressed regarding Iran, "Israel's security will take priority for German policy even over economic interests in the region." When asked about a contradiction between his CDU colleague Schauerte steering one of the largest German-Iranian gas deals to closure, and Lammert's assurance to Olmert that Israel's security would not be sacrificed on the altar of German-Iranian profits, Lammert's spokeswoman requested a written e-mail query. Lammert, however, refused to answer the Post's written questions. Claus Hinterleitner, Lammert's spokesman, told the Post Lammert was unfamiliar with the business transaction, and declined to issue a statement. In 2006, Olmert pushed to end the robust economic partnership between Germany and Iran. Merkel's administration has failed to rein in German firms, particularly engineering companies that maintain a multi-billion euro trade relationship with Teheran. Over the years Germany has been the leading European Union trade partner with the Iranian regime. Dieter Graumann, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and one of the most vocal critics of the German-Iranian trade relationship, wrote in an e-mail to the Post, "If a member of the federal government really is making possible such intensive, aggressive and highly sensitive business with Iran, the world champions in anti-Semitism, it's a terrible scandal that outrages and horrifies me. That the secretary of state even publicly boasts of it makes the whole thing even worse. The credibility of the federal government on this point is thus effectively called into question." "The Federal Economics Ministry has attracted notice in the past by seeming only too ready to encourage business with the Teheran regime that officially threatens Israel with annihilation. Such an attitude would be a real scandal for a German ministry, ahistorical and almost unscrupulous. A clarification of what position the government is actually supporting is thus overdue." During the celebration of the State of Israel's 60th anniversary, the Federal Committee of the CDU, Germany's largest political party, issued a resolution outlining its position on Iran: "Our Israeli friends feel really threatened by this and by the inhuman statements by the Iranian president. Anyone who denies the Holocaust and threatens Israel's destruction has to be isolated by the international community. Germany must not just accept an existential threat to Israel's security. Israel's security is never negotiable. We see the Iranian president's statements toward our partner, with whom we share common values and interests, and a possible nuclear weapons program as simultaneously a threat to Germany and Europe." When questioned whether the gas deal negotiated by a high-ranking CDU politician contradicts the CDU's Israel resolution, Philipp Wachholz, a spokesman for the CDU Federal Committee, told the Post to ask Schauerte. After repeatedly informing Wachholz that Schauerte refuses to speak with the Post, Wachholz said he could not reach CDU representatives because it was the "summer break." A follow-up call to Matthias Barner, director of the CDU press department, was returned by Wachholz, who said the liquid gas deal "does not contradict the resolution of the Federal Committee" demanding the isolation of Iran. The liquid gas contract comes at a sensitive time for Germany's efforts to halt Iran's nuclear weapons program. The French energy giant Total withdrew from all Iranian gas projects after Iran tested long-range missiles this month that, according to Iranian officials, would be aimed at Israel. Yet the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce organized a business tour in Munich, Hamburg and Berlin for an Iranian delegation in July. Critics charge Germany with not stepping up the pressure to restrict trade to Iran, and affirm its historical responsibility to secure Israel's existence. Iran's genocidal policy toward Israel is testing, for many Israelis, Germany's commitment to the Jewish state. AP contributed to this report