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Weinthal: That Treasured German-Iranian Friendship
From The Wall St. Journal:
The Bundestag's Tehran travellers see no evil in their trip to the mullahs.
Germany has a bizarre way of working through its history. While the government, rhetorically at least, opposes Iran's nuclear weapons program as a threat to Israel's security, members of its parliament courted Tehran's Holocaust deniers just last month.
Five German law makers-including members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition parties-traveled to Iran in October to meet with a motley crew of leading human-rights violators, misogynists, and anti-Semites. The five MPs sought to promote "cultural cooperation" between the two parliaments and countries. Ironically, the five legislators went from a closed society in Iran to a closed-door parliamentary session in Germany last week to report on their journey.
While the European Parliament recently refused to visit Iran because of the regime's wretched human-rights record, the German legislators saw nothing wrong with schmoozing with the mullahs. Peter Gauweiler, chairman of the Bundestag's foreign affairs cultural and education committee, told Spiegel Online during his tour of the Islamic Republic that "Germany understands its foreign cultural politics as a contribution to crisis prevention, the protection of human rights and encouragement of freedom."
When asked whether his visit may have had the opposite effect by lending legitimacy to an oppressive regime, Mr. Gauweiler seemed surprised at the thought: "No. Why?," he answered. German language course and university exchange programs could supposedly be enjoyed by Iranian people from all different segments of society, Mr. Gauweiler claimed. Even if true, and it certainly isn't for the thousands of dissidents and persecuted minorities languishing in Iran's prisons, how studying German would improve Iran's human-rights record remains unanswered.
How were German taxpayer euros spent for the six-day trip? The legislators, which apart from Mr. Gauweiler included also Monika Grütters of Mrs. Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, Luc Jochimsen from the Left Party, Claudia Roth from the Green Party, and the Social Democrat's Günter Gloser, met with Ali Larijani, the head of Iran's parliament. That's the same Larijani who at the 2009 Munich security conference caused for uproar when he said his country has "different perspectives on the Holocaust." The German law makers also met Ali Larijani's brother, Mohammad Javad Larijani, who is the head of the Iranian human-rights council. It did not seem to upset the Germans that Mohammad Larijani in 2008-during a German Foreign Ministry-sponsored event close to Berlin's Holocaust memorial, no less-denied the Holocaust and called for Israel's destruction.
The German law makers also talked to Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who delivered a key speech at Tehran's 2006 Holocaust denial conference. Another dialogue partner was Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, the head of Iran's parliamentary cultural committee, who famously supported Iran's fatwa calling for the murder of British novelist Salman Rushdie.
Mr. Gauweiler and his fellow travelers though found no time to publicly criticize the regime's oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, women, gays or trade unionists. There was no word of support for the Bahai, who are being persecuted for the crime of following their peaceful religion. German law makers apparently also found it impolite to publicly draw attention to the planned execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for alleged adultery.
Instead, according to Iran's regime-controlled Press-TV, Mr. Gauweiler even complained about "Western propaganda against Tehran," and praised his hosts. "During our trip to Iran," Mr. Gauweiler was quoted as saying, "we gained useful experience on the peaceful coexistence of different religious groups within the Iranian society, which is incomparable to what is seen in other regional countries."
When asked about this quote by Der Spiegel, Mr. Gauweiler's response was not exactly an outright denial. "I am not familiar with the details of the reports . . . We have had not only good experiences with the Iranian press," before adding that "one cannot deny that Christian churches [in Iran] can follow their religion more freely than at some of our Arab allies." Sounds like Iran's state media did get the gist of Mr. Gauweiler's statements right.
And this was not an isolated trip by some renegade lawmakers. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and the German ambassador in Tehran, Bernd Erbel, facilitated the visit. Mr. Erbel is typical for Germany's not particularly "critical" dialogue with Tehran. At his appointment in 2009, shortly after the repression of the pro-democracy movement and the discovery of a new uranium enrichment plant, he said how much he was looking forward to "preserving the historical treasure of the German-Iranian friendship."
And the trips of German politicians to Iran just keep coming. Elke Hoff, a lawmaker from Mr. Westerwelle's Free Democratic Party, is slated to arrive on Nov. 20 to meet with "senior Iranian officials," the Tehran Times reports. Ms. Hoff, as the Iranian newspaper points out, is a member of the Bundestag's Defense Committee and Sub-Committee on Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. She is also member of the German-Iranian parliamentary group and serves on the board of the German Near and Middle East Association (NUMOV), a pro-Iranian business trade organization. NUMOV's honorary chairman is former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who last year met President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad in Tehran to promote German-Iranian trade.
It appears that for Berlin, promoting its flourishing trade relationship with Tehran and preserving the "historical treasure of the German-Iranian friendship" trump concerns for human rights and nuclear proliferation.