German 'business as usual' with Iran

Critics of Germany's pro-business policy toward Teheran flocked to a unique conference in Berlin.

benny morris 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
benny morris 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Critics of Germany's pro-business policy toward Iran flocked to a conference in Berlin that for the first time brought together Germans, Iranians-in-exile and Israelis for two days of panel discussions that concluded late Saturday. The strong trade relations between Iran and Germany are a source of great concern for the speakers, who argued that Germany's overly cordial political and economic relations with Teheran are endangering the security of Israel and stability in the Middle East. The nonprofit Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin organized the conference. Dr. Matthias Küntzel, a German political scientist who specializes in German-Iranian relations, revealed that a controversial meeting between Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari and his German counterpart, Reinhard Silberberg, took place in April. Küntzel cited a report in the Tehran Times from April 19 in which "Silberberg noted that the two countries enjoy good relations and called for continuation of dialogue between Iranian and German officials." According to an April 20 report in the Persian Journal, Silberberg invited Safari for a three-day visit that entailed meetings with leading German politicians and business officials. A German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post, "A meeting took place with Silberberg" and Safari in Berlin on April 16, but the discussion did not address "economic questions." Instead, "difficult questions involving Iran" were raised. Silberberg reiterated Germany's two-track Iranian position emphasizing sanctions and dialogue, she added. A lighting-rod issue at the conference was the yawning gap between Chancellor Angela Merkel's speech to the Knesset on March 18 declaring Israel's national security to be part of Germany's "national interest," and her government's refusal to clamp down on German firms supplying valuable technology for Iran's infrastructure. According to the Iran Press TV Web site, representatives from the German Economics Ministry and German industry met with Safari during his visit and "the two sides discussed ways to expand economic cooperation and agreed that a German delegation would visit Iran to follow up agreements already signed between Teheran and Berlin." A spokewoman for the Economics Ministry, which organizes workshops to promote trade between Iran and Germany, confirmed that a meeting took place between Safari and Bernd Pfaffenbach, a state secretary in the ministry. These were "routine conversations about the economic relationship between Iran and Germany," she said. The spokeswoman declined to go into more detail. The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she could not comment on Iranian media reports covering the meetings. "German politics has up until now prevented serious unilateral European sanctions" against Iran, Küntzel said, "although anti-Semitism and the denial of the Holocaust is a centerpiece of Iran's foreign policy" and despite Iran's oft-repeated calls for the destruction of Israel. The mounting impatience with Germany's kid gloves approach to Iran was evident at the conference. Bruno Schirra, a prominent investigative journalist who writes for the monthly magazine Cicero, said Teheran "only understood the language of the stick" and the Iranian regime was "state terrorism." Schirra, who visited Iran in 2004 and spoke to Hussein Moussavian, a high-ranking nuclear negotiator, said Moussavian said Iran "has nuclear ambitions." Former Post editorial page editor Saul Singer spoke at the conference on "Is Europe pressing Israel towards War? EU, UN and the possible effectiveness of draconian sanctions." There was a "great focus on preventing dead fascism" in Germany, Singer said, but a "new, living fascism" was rising in Iran. He urged the conference attendees to "protest companies that are deeply involved with Iran" such as Siemens and pulling the plug on Hizbullah's activities in Germany. According to terrorism expert Alexander Ritzmann, who spoke about Iran and the Islamist network in Germany, there are 900 known Hizbullah members in the country. The German government has not classified Hizbullah - in contrast to Hamas - as a terrorist organization. Tal Yehoash, an Israeli living in Berlin, said there was "no moral fiber in the German government to lead on sanctions." She criticized Germany for "financing a second Holocaust." In an exclusive interview with the Post, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev history professor Benny Morris, who spoke during the panel "A second Holocaust? The threat to Israel," said, "There should be a moral perception in Germany. They owe the Jewish people something and Israel is an expression of the Jewish people." Asked about Merkel declaring Israel to be part of Germany's national interest, Morris said, "She is speaking the voice of conscience but that does not mean this is how politics will really unfold in Germany." Morris, who recently released his book 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, said he did not see a willingness in Europe to confront Iran.