German MPs do business with Iran

By Benjamin Weinthal, November 2, 2012
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V European politicians in Brussels and Berlin have unleashed a storm of criticism over their planned trips to meet representatives of Iran’s regime.

A group of five left-wing MEPs had been slated to go to Tehran last Saturday to meet Iranian lawmakers.

Struan Stevenson, a Scottish MEP who heads the parliament’s Friends of a Free Iran caucus, tweeted in advance of the trip: “Scandalous European parliament will send a large ‘friendship’ delegation to Iran, end October, bolstering this evil regime. CANCEL.”

The trip was cancelled at the 11th hour because Iran rejected one of the EU’s pre-conditions — that the five-member delegation led by Finland’s Green Party member Tarja Cronberg would be allowed to deliver the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who is under house arrest.

Iran’s regime craves political and diplomatic legitimacy from foreign governments, which explains Mr Stevenson’s outrage, as well that of two US senators. “Sending a delegation to Iran for a seven-day visit sends the wrong message at this particularly sensitive time,” Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Senator Ben Cardin wrote in a letter to head of the European Parliament.

In 2011, Ms Cronberg planned a similar delegation to Iran, which she later cancelled. Her German colleague in the current delegation, the Left Party MEP Cornelia Ernst, recently called Iran sanctions “stupid”.

Meanwhile, a group of Bundestag MPs arrived on Sunday in Iran. The three MPs, Bijan Djir-Sarai, from the pro-business Free Democratic party, Thomas Feist from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, and Angelika Graf of the Social Democrats, placed German business interests over stopping Iran’s nuclear programme.

The three politicians were planning to visit the local chamber of commerce and meet Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the Iranian human rights council.

That is the same Larijani who called for the “cancellation of the Zionist project” at a German Foreign Ministry-sponsored event close to Berlin’s Holocaust memorial in 2008. At the same event, Larijani said: “Denial of the Holocaust in the Muslim world has nothing to do with antisemitism.”

Dieter Graumann, the head of Germany’s Jews, said the trip to Iran is “horribly false”, adding that it “is a brazen example of being on the wrong political and moral path, this was a trip to visit a regime that continues to build its nuclear programme, threatens the destruction of Israel and continues to deny the Holocaust.”

German-Iranian relations have always looked unbreakable and the trip to Iran, which was met with silence from the Merkel administration, has once again highlighted this special relationship.

Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies

Last updated: 10:45am, November 2 2012