Amid Concerns Over Rights Abuses, Proliferation, Holocaust Denial, Germany Pushes to Restore Economic Ties With Iran

By James Carstensen | September 9, 2016 | 1:46am EDT
German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel meets with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani in Tehran on July 20, 2015 (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

Berlin ( – Iran’s intelligence minister is the latest senior Iranian to visit Germany, paving the way for President Hasan Rouhani later this month, as a country keenly aware of its painful history opens up to one whose leaders have questioned the Holocaust.

In a low-key visit, Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi met with German authorities in Berlin on Tuesday, prompting criticism from the exiled opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

The group condemned the exchange of information between German authorities and Alavi, calling it a violation of the fundamental rights of NCRI members living in exile in Germany.

“Alavi should be brought to justice rather than enjoying an official reception,” Kazem Moussavi, an Iranian exile in Germany, told the Jerusalem Post. He warned that the regime would “intensify the monitoring and cracking down on members of the opposition in Germany.”

“Stop the Bomb,” a German NGO, also condemned the visit.

“The coordination of German authorities with the terror apparatus of the Iranian regime is a slap in the face of all democrats and an open threat against Iranians living in Germany,” said the group’s spokesperson, Ulrike Becker.

The invitation of Alavi to Berlin has also raised concerns due to the regime’s poor human rights record.

The office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights in a report this year cited abuses including “possible torture and ill-treatment of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and opposition activists.”

Furthermore, the German intelligence agency (BfV) has raised concern about Iran’s proliferation activities – attempts to acquire nuclear and missile-related equipment – in Germany.

Its most recent annual report said that Iran’s “illegal proliferation-sensitive procurement activities in Germany … persisted in 2015 at what is, even by international standards, a quantitatively high level.”

The BfV added that Germany can “expect that Iran will continue its intensive procurement activities in Germany using clandestine methods to achieve its objectives.”

Before sanctions were imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities, Germany was one of its largest trading partners. Now sanctions have been lifted following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, it appears to be rushing to restore economic ties.

“German companies have lost important market share in Iran,” deputy general manager of the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), Volker Treier, said last January, when JCPOA implementation began. “We must revive German-Iranian ties as quickly as possible.”

DIHK president Eric Schweitzer expressed the hope that trade volume between the two countries could be doubled within the next two years.

German business delegations started visiting Iran this year, with the Bavarian Minister for Economic Affairs, Ilse Aigner, travelling to Iran last Sunday.

Iranian Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi is also slated to visit Germany around the end of September, according to Iranian logistics group, Samand Tarabar. The German foreign ministry has not published any announcements, however.

German multinationals including engineering conglomerate Siemens AG have announced plans for large industrial projects in Iran, while Iran's Middle East Bank and Sina Bank are set to open branches in Munich by the year’s end.

According to the Taggespiel daily, since sanctions were eased this year, associations and corporations have been putting pressure on the federal government.

However, the eagerness to resume ties puts Chancellor Angela Merkel in a delicate position, due to troubled relations between Iran and Germany. Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, regional policies and rhetoric against Israel have caused tension with the international community.

Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly called the Holocaust a myth and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in January published an English-subtitled video questioning whether the Nazis’ systematic murder of six million Jews happened.

This attitude causes particular unhappiness in Germany.

“You can’t have a good economic relationship with Germany in the long-term if we don't discuss such issues,” Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said during a visit to Tehran in July.

Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee in Berlin also warned of the impact of the rush to open up to Iran.

“The federal government should not push through a reckless Iran policy that jeopardizes strategically important German-Israeli relations,” she said.

Merkel has announced that the surge in exports does not mean Germany will “normalize” relations with Iran – until it recognizes the state of Israel and its “right to exist.”

However, the foreign ministry has not informed the public of the visits from Iranian officials, and refrained from answering media inquiries.

Martin Patzelt, deputy of the CDU in the Bundestag, criticized the secrecy.

“It worries me also that the public has nothing to learn about the process,” he said. “The federal government has to be questioned on why the visit [of Alavi] is kept secret.”

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