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Iran: What Will Germany Do Now?

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The bilateral relationship continued uninterrupted after 1945. By 1952 West Germany was the leading trade partner of Mohammed Reza Shah’s Iran, a position maintained almost every year until 1979.

Despite the fact that West Germany’s position as the Shah’s leading supplier had discredited it in the eyes of his opponents, German technology and industry remained much sought-after under Khomeini’s regime.

“Goods from Germany traditionally enjoy great popularity in Iran and are preferred to products from other countries”, declared Dr Ranjbaran, a member of the Board of Directors of the German-Iranian Chamber of Trade and Commerce in November 2010. “This relationship of trust has been built up over decades of long and close cooperation between German and Iranian participants.”

As a result, today two thirds of Iranian industrial firms and three quarters of the country’s small and medium enterprises use machinery and equipment of German origin. “The Iranians are totally dependent on German spare parts and suppliers”, states Michael Tockuss, the former President of the German-Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Teheran. Germany can choose whether to continue to meet this demand or cease to do so until further notice.

At loggerheads over the Iranian nuclear program

In 1984 Hans-Dietrich Genscher became the first Western foreign minister to visit the Mullahs. In the 1990s, relations were further stepped up. According to Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian ambassador to Germany, bilateral contacts had developed to the point where “between October 1990 and 1996 over 300 delegations… made reciprocal visits – delegations from the spheres of politics, the economy, culture and parliament.”

At that time US President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl were already at loggerheads over the Iranian nuclear program. Germany wanted to thwart American efforts to use economic pressure to get Iran to abandon further pursuit of its nuclear plans. Teheran was “aware of Germany’s significant role in breaking the economic chains with which the USA had bound Iran”, writes Mousavian.

The penultimate episode in this controversy started with Obama’s election victory. Obama aimed for a rapprochement between Washington and Teheran and this approach made it easier for Germany, to “hold fast to its basic position of non-exclusion of Iran”, according to a study by the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik think-tank in May 2009. Now, it argued, fresh heart must be taken and cooperation with Iran “established and positively evaluated” wherever possible.

As we know, however, Khamenei brusquely rejected Obama’s outstretched hand. “Iran has chosen the path of international isolation”, lamented the American President a few days ago.

The German government, on the other hand, has stuck to its position of “non-exclusion”, as we can see from a glance at the activities of the aforementioned German-Iranian Chamber of Trade and Commerce, which is co-funded by the German Ministry of Economics.

The German-Iranian Chamber of Trade and Commerce

The purpose of this body is “to establish new trade links between the two countries or expand existing cooperation” and “actively to contribute to the preservation and improvement of relations between Iran and Germany.” It boasts being the second largest of Germany’s international network of foreign trade chambers.

In 2010, with the active support of the visa section of the German Embassy, it shepherded 7,000 representatives of Iranian firms to Germany, so that they could “learn about the latest technologies, innovations and achievements” at German trade fairs and keep business appointments. At the same time German businessmen who wanted to “meet the largest possible number of potential business partners” in Iran were looked after by the Chamber’s in-house Events Department.

In addition, every year the Chamber publishes a catalogue in which German firms offer their services in English and Persian. The 2010 catalogue lists not only major German firms such as Babcock Borsig, Bosch, Carl Zeiss, Deutz, Degussa, Herrenknecht, Kraussmaffei, Linde, Merck and Miele, but also smaller enterprises such as Aker Wirth GmbH from Erkelenz, which advertises its tunnel-boring equipment “with special emphasis on its application to hard rock” and Firma Atlas Terex from Delmenhorst, which, under the slogan “the right equipment for every job”, offers cranes, i.e. machines which the regimes uses for, among other things, public hangings.

According to statistics provided by the Federal Agency for External Trade in September 2007, German firms were the market leaders in seven out of nine mechanical engineering sectors in Iran. Italian firms head the list for the other two sectors.

Admittedly, German exports to Iran fell by an annual rate of 19% in the first eight months of this year, but they remain at a high level: according to official figures for January to September 2011 Germany exported high-tech goods to a value of €2.285bn to Iran – 30% of total EU exports to Iran. These figures show that Western efforts to resolve the Iranian conflict by non-military means are doomed to failure if Germany undermines them.

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About the Author: Küntzel is an external research associate at the Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the Board of Directors of the German chapter of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). Matthias holds a tenured part-time position as a teacher of political science at a technical college in Hamburg, Germany.


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