When the Iranian government celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, few celebrated outside regime rent-a-mobs in Tehran. After all, while the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini promised Iranians and diplomats that he had no interest in personal power and only wanted an Islamic democracy, he instead ushered in a dictatorship more brutal, corrupt, and capricious than the shah’s regime which he demonized. There’s also the Iranian support for terrorism. The notion that this is just “resistance” or legitimate opposition to Israeli occupation of the West Bank is belied by the fact that its targets are not only Israelis and often civilian. The 1994 Buenos Aires bombing, for example, targeted civilians for the sole purpose of killing Jews. And Iranian regime support for Hamas actively undercuts the Middle East peace process.
Curiously, however, Iran was not alone in its festivities. The German government joined the Islamic Republic to celebrate the anniversary of Khomeini’s return to Iran. The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal has been on top of the story for a month. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier sent a congratulatory telegram to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Both Foreign Ministry State Minister Niels Annen and an Iran desk officer attended the celebrations. The irony, of course, is that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said he went into politics “because of Auschwitz” and now celebrates a regime both whose official position is to deny the Holocaust occurred and which has repeatedly stated its goal to eradicate the Jewish state. These goals and beliefs extend to Rouhani who, as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, oversaw the launch of Iran’s then-covert nuclear weapons program, and also was a general policy coordinator when Tehran granted asylum to Jürgen Graf, a Swiss Holocaust denier, and to Wolfgang Fröhlick, an Austrian engineer who argued in court that Zyklon-B could not kill humans.
What explains Germany’s enthusiasm for ties to one of the world’s most murderous regimes? While German politicians were embarrassed by Weinthal’s reporting, and tried to block him from gaining publicly available information, Germany has long been at the forefront of efforts to embrace Iran regardless of regime behavior. The answer is simple: For German authorities across from the political spectrum, human rights is only a tool with which to dress its foreign policy rhetoric. The German public may care about human rights, but few German elites, from the political right or from the political left, do. For German authorities, the primary goal is commercial benefit. The execution of gays, slaughter of Jews, repression of other minorities, and terrorism are inconveniences to ignore.
Consider the history of official German human rights cynicism with regard to Iran. It was German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel who, in 1992, entered office trumpeting human rights while simultaneously seeking to expand trade with the Islamic Republic. At the time, most European countries stood in solidarity against Iran due to the contract which the regime had put on the life of author Salman Rushdie. By promising to tie trade with a substantive discussion of human rights, Kinkel provided an excuse to return German firms to the Iranian market.
Iranian officials understood they could use Germany to break the Western consensus against it. On July 16, 1992, German officials welcomed Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati to Bonn. German officials spoke about human rights, but only in a pro forma way. By the end of the year, the European Union endorsed Berlin’s “critical dialogue” which, in theory, would reward Iranian improvements on human rights with greater trade. The cynicism of the move is readily apparent in hindsight: By every possible metric, human rights declined as German trade increased. Some German experts acknowledged what German diplomats would not. Johannes Reissner, head of the Research Division on the Middle East and Africa at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, argued that as important as Germany’s stated goals were its unstated motives. “A powerful motive behind the policy was to maintain contact with Iran not simply as a means to change Iranian behavior, but also as a way to sustain EU-Iranian commercial relations, which were highly lucrative at the time of the formation of the dialogue,” he acknowledged.
As German authorities dispensed with any notion that human rights mattered, their Iranian counterparts interpreted German contracts as insurance against accountability. Indeed, less than a year and a half after Kinkel assumed his role, the Iranian government resumed its hostage diplomacy, seizing Iran-Germany Chamber of Commerce member Gerhard Bachmann. By the time he was released, German exports to Iran had increased to $1.4 billion, more than twice the level of any other country. While trade subsequently declined because of international sanctions brought on by Iranian nuclear cheating, terror sponsorship, and U.S. pressure, in recent years Berlin’s courtship of Tehran has again manifested itself as much in trade as in a willingness to turn a blind eye to nuclear cheating and such blatant human rights violations as the public execution of gays.
German diplomats might speak the rhetoric of human rights, but they and the German government have long since abandoned any willingness or effort to better the world; their commitment to peace is limited, and their priority is only the bank accounts of its top corporate leaders. Alas, here, Iran is more the rule than the exception. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder left office and became chairman of Russia’s biggest oil producer Rosneft. Steinmeier, who now lauds Iran’s repressive regime, had a front-row seat to Schroder’s moral corruption as Steinmeier served as Schroder’s chief-of-staff while chancellor. China’s increasingly hardline communist regime, likewise, can safely conclude that contracts for German businessmen double as political and diplomatic hush money against German criticism of its mass incarceration of Uighurs and other “undesirables.”
Back to Iran: The German government’s celebration of Iran’s Islamic Revolution may have been gratuitous, but it was consistent with decades, if not more than a century, of German foreign policy. For successive German governments, lucrative contracts have always trumped human rights and, absent any moral clarity in German political culture, will continue to do so.
Source » washingtonexaminer