October 10, 2013

The Most Important Country in the EU


2013/10/09 BERLIN/TEHERAN (Own report) - German foreign policy makers are playing a prominent role in the rapprochement between the West and Iran. As Jürgen Todenhöfer (CDU), a former member of the Bundestag, explains, he conveyed Teheran's negotiating proposal for solving the nuclear dispute to Washington already in the spring of 2010. At the time, the Iranian government had proposed that the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, serve as mediator. Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and her German deputy, Helga Schmid, are playing key roles in the current talks on Iran's nuclear program. Prior to her EU position in Brussels, Schmid had made a career in the German Foreign Ministry as chief of staff for Foreign Minister Joseph Fischer. Iran's President Hassan Rohani, in return, is promoting Germany's prominent role in his country's EU policy. Berlin welcomes the new rapprochement between the West and Iran. German Middle East experts point out that, if this rapprochement should be successful, it would also lead to far-reaching geo-strategic shifts, initially affecting Syria.

Schäuble as Mediator
Jürgen Todenhöfer (CDU), former member of the Bundestag, explained that, already three years ago, Teheran entrusted Berlin a key mediating role in the dispute about its nuclear program. On April 26, 2010, following "German government mediation," he conveyed Iran's negotiating proposal to Washington, which had been "very concrete" and contained particularly "four points." It included the "absolute guarantee that there would be no construction of an Iranian nuclear bomb," the announcement of Iran's willingness to enter a constructive cooperation on the questions of Afghanistan and Iraq and to "combat together international terrorism," and particularly "fair (...) arrangements concerning Iranian and US Middle Eastern spheres of influence." According to Todenhöfer, Iran also proposed that German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), serve as "mediator." Negotiations were proposed to take place "at the highest level" - obviously with the sole inclusion of Germany. Unfortunately, Washington had no reaction.[1]

Key Role in the EU
Berlin is claiming also a key role in the current rapprochement between Iran and the West. After all, the EU sanctions have brought "Iran back to the negotiating table, already at the beginning of 2012,"[2] Helga Schmid, Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs for the External Action Service (EAS), is quoted as having said. Schmid had worked in the German Foreign Ministry, since the 1990s - most recently as chief of staff for Foreign Minister Joseph Fischer - before going to the EU in Brussels in 2006. As Deputy to Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Schmid is also in charge of the EU's talks with Teheran on Iran's nuclear program. President Hassan Rohani's election has practically institutionalized Iran's 2012 change of policy, which resulted from EU sanctions, according to Schmid: Rohani was elected, because "as a candidate, he clearly stood for a moderate policy towards the West and for the improvement of the economy." Diplomats are now telling the media that Iran has changed its policy thanks particularly to the EU's Foreign Affairs representatives,[3] meaning actually Deputy Schmid, who is in charge of this issue. Referring to her mode of operating and indicating thereby her loyalty, Schmid explained after her first year in Brussels: "I am on the telephone daily with the Chancellery and Foreign Ministry."[4]

Special Priority
In September, President Hassan Rohani had explicitly underlined Germany's and the EU's special importance for Iran. In a letter dated September 9, he wrote to the President of the European Parliament, the German Social Democrat, Martin Schulz, that "one of the new Iranian government's main foreign policy objectives" is the "initiation of a new political era." Iran will be seeking to improve relations with the EU. In a letter to President Joachim Gauck, dated September 22, he stressed that for Teheran, Germany is the most important country in the EU: "The expansion of relations with Germany within the EU is of primary importance to Iranian foreign policy."[5]

A Geostrategic Option
Berlin is, of course, delighted by the new rapprochement between Iran and the West. According to the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), "the opportunity" for solving the nuclear dispute "is better than ever before," one should be confident about Teheran's "policy change."[6] "In the long run, to isolate" Teheran is advantageous neither to the West nor to Iran, explains Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP): this new opportunity for a lasting change of policy should be grasped. Perthes points out that an enduring rapprochement with Iran will be accompanied by serious shifts in the West's Middle East policy. The Middle East is made up of the "Arab world" and the "non Arab countries" - Iran, Turkey and Israel. These three countries are linked by their contrasts to the Arab world. "Cooperation" has always existed "in the past," as the example of cooperation between Iran and Israel during the reign of the Shah demonstrates. Contrary to the current dispute between Tel Aviv and Teheran, Perthes points to a renewed cooperation between the two as "a geostrategic option, a geostrategic opportunity."[7]

Regardless of Who is in Power
The initial concrete consequences of a new rapprochement could have an effect on Syria. Though Iran, "for geopolitical considerations, will continue to have an interest in maintaining strong relations with Syria," according to SWP director Perthes, this will be "regardless of who is in power."[8] In principle, it is imaginable that Teheran could distance itself from Assad. According to the DGAP, Iran had recently "offered to serve as a mediator in the Syrian Civil War."[9] There seems to be a certain amount of flux in Iran's standpoint. President Rohani, for example, clearly differentiates between the political opposition and terrorists in Syria: "Perhaps this can open an opportunity to enter talks with the opposition." However, one of the West's closest allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, will find it "difficult, to include Iran in negotiations on the Syrian Civil War" - after all, Saudi Arabia and Iran, at the moment, are the archrivals at the Persian Gulf. The conflict between them gives an indication of how a rapprochement between Iran and the West would necessarily entail a comprehensive restructuring.

[1] Jürgen Todenhöfer: Darum sollten wir Netanjahu misstrauen; www.fr-online.de 06.10.2013
[2] Zurück aus der Isolation; www.tagesschau.de 20.09.2013
[3] Die zähe Europäerin; www.spiegel.de 01.10.2013
[4] see also Assertiveness and In Brüssel stark vertreten
[5] Bahman Nirumand: Iran-Report 10/2013
[6] Iran - USA: Ende der Eiszeit? dgap.org 30.09.2013
[7] Rohanis "Charme-Offensive" auf Substanz testen; www.dradio.de 01.10.2013
[8] Zurück aus der Isolation; www.tagesschau.de 20.09.2013
[9] Iran - USA: Ende der Eiszeit? dgap.org 30.09.2013


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