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German-Iranian connection solid as ever

By DAVID NEUMANN, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   June 6, 2013 at 12:03 AM   |   Comments

BRUSSELS, June 6 (UPI) -- A curious spectacle unfolded May 29 in the European Parliament, as the U.N. Envoy in Iraq Ambassador Martin Kobler testified before the Foreign Affairs Committee.

He was offered the opportunity to address this high-profile platform by his German compatriot and Committee Chairman Elmar Brok to discuss the situation in Iraq.

However, his speech focused on casting blame toward Iranian dissidents who are refugees in two camps in Iraq. These dissidents are members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran, an opposition group that works to overthrow the Iranian theocracy.

Many members of the European Parliament taking part in the debate protested to his attempts to "deceive the Parliament" and his "highly hypocritical" presentation. Some asked if he had nothing to hide why he wouldn't agree to "an independent investigation" into his conduct, while others demanded that he "resign" or "be fired!"

However the U.N. envoy didn't find himself totally abandoned in the debate and was defended by a number of his compatriots from various political parties.

First in the list was Alexander Lambsdorff, a member of the Liberal FDP, the same party as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who infamously shook hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran a couple of years ago.

Another speaker was Michael Gahler, a former junior diplomat from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, who as rapporteur drafted a key resolution in 2002 that became the basis for European Parliament forming a friendship delegation with Iran.

Another speaker was Barbara Lochbihler from the Green Party, the same party as Kobler, who also led the European Parliament's Iran delegation for several years, working closely with the Iranian Embassy in Brussels. The German Greens were the only major political party in Europe to officially denounce sanctions on Iran's nuclear ambitions as "illegal."

Despite the implementation of sanctions by Western governments, Germany remains a key trading partner with Iran. A recent statistical account of trade with Iran from 1950 to 2011, undertaken by the Federal Republic's office of statistics in Wiesbaden, found that trade relations surged during the Ahmadinejad era.

The Economist World in Figures 2012 edition states Germany is third in the world in exports to Iran, after United Arab Emirates and China. In 2009, it delivered goods worth more than $4.3 billion to Iran and expanded the figure to $4.5 billion in 2010 and remained as high as $3.1 billion in 2011. Iran's own state run Press TV recently lauded the "booming trade relations" between the two countries.

Germany has a long history of engagement with Islamic Republic. Hans-Dietrich Genscher became the first Western foreign minister to visit Tehran in 1984. This policy continued through 2008, when a German senior diplomat in Iran reportedly attended one of the regimes' "Down with Israel" rallies.

German Ambassador to Iran Herbert Honsowitz went on record as stating that he would do what was necessary to "to preserve and improve economic relations" between the two countries despite the implementation of sanctions.

Der Spiegel report has highlighted Germany as a "focal point of procurement" for Iran's nuclear program. While Deutsche Welle has reported on the unregulated sale of surveillance technology by German firms to Iran in order to be used to track and spy on dissidents. Not to mention the fact that Iran has looked to Berlin to buy equipment to create drones. The Deutsche Bank is facing a penalty of more than $390 million for violations of sanctions on Iran.

Westerwelle reportedly went out of his way to meet with his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi during the U.N. General Assembly in September. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development recently sponsored an event that featured Tehran's Ambassador Ali Reza Sheik Attar, who's been reportedly implicated in the killing of civilians in Iran's Kurdistan.

With this background, it is no surprise that providing priority to business and trade with such regimes has become typical of German diplomacy.

Far from "promoting the protection of human rights and judicial and legal reform" as his mandate requires, Kobler appears keen on also exploring economic opportunities in Iraq.

He recently stated, "German businessmen are fully encouraged to keep Iraq in mind." He has even gone on record in interviews advocating his economic goals, which are beyond his mandate.

"My appeal -- and this is not strictly my mandate of course -- but my appeal is to the government: Give private companies more space, reduce red tape, reduce bureaucracy, have a one-stop shop for investors," Kobler said in a November interview with Global Observatory.

During his term, human rights violations by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki rose to record numbers, making Iraq third in the world in executions after China and Iran.

His wife, Britta Wagner, becoming the new ambassador to Iraq last year hasn't helped the controversy around him.

A former high-ranking member of the U.N. mission in Iraq, Tahar Boumedra, who resigned last year, testified before the U.S. Congress that Kobler had been having lengthy meetings with the Iranian ambassador to Iraq to discuss the fate of the Iranian dissidents in Camps Ashraf and Liberty. Discussing the fate of refugees with officials of the country they fled is rare if not prohibited.

The sudden rush to defend their countryman by the Germans European MPs in last week's meeting didn't go unnoticed by other lawmakers.

"I am not your compatriot like your defender Mr. Lambsdorff... but nobody's perfect!" said Ryszard Czarnecki, a former EU minister of Poland before proposing that Kobler resign.

Although Brok finished the meeting with complementary remarks for the U.N. envoy, he indicated that Kobler's term in Iraq wouldn't be extended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in July.

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(Political writer David N. Neumann got his mater's of arts degree in political science in United States in 2004. Now back to Europe, he writes freely on a variety of topics and global issues.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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