Germany secures a foothold in Iran
By Safa Haeri
Asia Times Online
24th of Jan 2004
PARIS - Iran has become the prize for which both the United States and the European Union are fighting, with the EU having already made huge investments in future decision-makers, thus possessing a determining edge over Washington, according to analysts.
The end game is about the political return of Germany to the Middle East, where other major players, namely the United States, France, Britain and Russia, are present and have their proxies, analysts say.
"From a long time ago, Germany, aware of the importance of Iran as the major economic, but also political and strategic power in the region, and given the new situation created following the Islamic revolution of 1979 that revived Iranian nationalism, chose Iran as its principal ally for its political return to this sensitive region, building firm contacts with the new Iranian leaders, including both the clerics and civilians, many of them pro-German," Morteza Rai'si, an Iranian journalist based in Bonn who has followed Iran-Germany relations for over half a century, told Asia Times Online.
It is important to note that Germany also played an important role in Iranian industrialization, which was started by Reza Shah, the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty that was toppled by the revolution of 1979. However, Germany enjoyed a better image with the Iranians than the hated British Empire on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other. These two countries were replaced in terms of influence by the United States after the pro-monarchy coup of 1953, staged with the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency. All three - Britain, the Soviet Union and the US - were widely viewed as plunderers of Iranian wealth, imperialist powers imposing their policies on Iran and humiliating a nation and people proud of their ancient civilization.
"It was Hans Dietrich Genscher, the former German foreign minister, who, in order to create a balance between Germany as an economic giant and political dwarf, and aware of the fact that the ayatollahs, who had ended the overwhelming American presence in Iran, had turned to Europe to thwart American pressures and sanctions, decided to use Tehran as a jumping spring board for Berlin's re-entry in the region," explained Kambiz Roosta, a veteran Iranian political activist and human rights campaigner based in Berlin.
"Not only does this policy continue today, but also in its quest, Berlin is strongly backed by Paris, which, because of it challenging Washington's hegemonic policies, is very popular in Iran and among other Middle East nations, except Israel," added Roosta in a telephone conversation with Asia Times Online.
"At the end of the day, it was the EU that got Iran to sign the Additional Protocol to the NPT [non-proliferation treaty] and which is pressing the ruling conservatives to normalize ties with the United States," Ra'isi noted.
"All the world's major nations have reached the conclusion that the [Middle East] region needs a strong power; which cannot be any other than Iran, where Germany, rich and with a very positive record, would have a privileged position," Ra'isi said, explaining Berlin's close relations with the Islamic Republic, a regime that Germany is well aware is isolated on the international scene and which has internal political problems too.
In the view of other Iranian observers, while the United States is banking on the collapse of the theocratic regime in Iran and pushing strongly for regime change, the European Union, including Britain, is served by better "humint" (human intelligence) in contrast to that of the US and will tell its governments that the ayatollahs are here to stay for "quite a long time" and to adopt a policy of "critical dialogue".
Though unpopular with the majority of the Iranians, and particularly among the young generation which makes up 70 percent of the population, the conservatives remain the ultimate decision-makers in Iran, where all key posts are controlled by them and the leader has the ultimate word on every major issue.
"There is no real threat against this regime and the atomic issue, the biggest threat to the Islamic Republic, was solved thanks to the EU negotiating with Hojjatoleslam Hasan Rohani, the influential secretary of Iran's Supreme Council for National Security, who was discovered and cultivated by the Germans a decade ago," Ra'isi said.
Iran has admitted that it produced small amounts of low enriched uranium using both centrifuges and laser enrichment processes ... and that it had failed to report a large number of conversion, fabrication and irradiation activities involving nuclear material, including the separation of a small amount of plutonium. As a result of the admission, and because of its willingness to inspections of its nuclear facilities, Iran has escaped international sanctions.
Among the subjects discussed between the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany with Rohani, beside the nuclear issue, was the normalization of ties with the US, which is now in progress and which will be fully addressed once the ruling conservatives secure control of the next majlis (parliament), another Iranian source who was in Vienna at the height of Iran's negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency last November and who has first-hand information about the talks, told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity.
"One day or another, Iran will establish relations with the United States. All of our abilities and art should be used for deciding the most opportune moment," a 56-year-old cleric who is close to both the leader of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the second man in command, said in an interview published in the newspaper Le Figaro on January 17.
Very probably, it was on recommendations from Berlin that France reserved an almost head of state welcome for Rohani, considered by many Iranian observers as "the rising star" representing what Western analysts have termed as "neo-conservatives", when he visited Paris 10 days ago, meeting French President Jacques Chirac, Foreign Affairs Minister Dominique de Villepin and the Speaker of the Senate.
The clerics who rule Iran realize that normalizing ties with Washington is a must, hence their determination to start talks on a semi-official level after securing the next majlis, which will then give them the green light to the process - blocked until now because of rivalries between the two wings of the Iranian leadership.
"With no domestic reformist threat on the horizon, the conservatives may choose to pursue a policy of engagement with Washington, even compromising on such issues as weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, Israel and human rights," wrote Sanam Vakil, a doctoral candidate and lecturer in Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, who was recently in Iran, for the Beirut-based The Daily Star of January 21.
"A conservative victory and unified government could also provide a solid opening for engagement with the United States. [President Mohammad] Khatami was allowed to pursue a policy of detente and dialogue that restored Iran's reputation with the European Union and the Arab world, but little progress has been made with the US," she added, noting, however, that this process would be delicate as the Bush administration and the EU have denounced the disqualification of a great number of reformist lawmakers running for the upcoming legislative elections by the powerful Guardians Council (GC), a conservative-controlled body that vets all candidates to all elections in Iran and which also goes through all laws passed by majlis to see if they are in conformity with the Sharia, or Islamic canons.
Responding to the outrage expressed inside and outside Iran on the disqualifications, Ayatollah Khamenei, who appoints six senior clerics out of the 12 members of the GC, urged the guardians to "review" the decision, which the reformists have rejected vehemently, threatening to resign en mass, including the president, and also to boycott the elections, a threat that few take seriously, reminding that such threats in the past had never been carried out for fear of encouraging popular demands for radical changes in the constitution.
"This is the most vicious and poisonous gift the leader could offer the reformists," Ali Keshtgar, a political activist and editor of the Paris-based Mihan (Homeland) monthly described in a conversation with Asia Times Online.
Explaining his view, he said: "When the Guardians Council disqualified the reformist candidates, public opinion, regardless of its apathy towards them, expressed sympathy without solidarity. Now that the GC has bowed to the leader's demand, the same opinion would turn more violently against the reformist lawmakers, having the feeling that they created all the noise just for saving their own political advantages. If the disqualified candidates are allowed to run, the voters would punish them by not voting for them."
Ms Vakil confirmed in her article: "By doing so [urging the GC to review the mass disqualifications] he [Khamenei] would come across as a benevolent leader supportive of democracy. This maneuver would be astute, considering the apathy that has taken hold of the Iranian electorate. In light of the lack of popular participation in the last municipal elections, as well as the generally pessimistic mood among youths after the protests and arrests last summer, it is likely that the decline in voter participation will continue, enabling conservative candidates to dominate in the forthcoming elections."
And Mohammad Javad Larijani, an advisor to the leader and the head of the international department of the conservative-controlled judiciary, told the news agency Reuters: "I think we should go easier on the reformists because they are going to lose enough seats to make us happy. Disillusioned with failed promises of reform and declining living standards, many Iranians have lost faith in Khatami and the reformists after nearly seven years in power, dong nothing for the people." http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FA24Ak01.html