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Europe/Iran: German Verdict On Iran Affects Relations With Europe

By Roland Eggleston and Jan de Weydenthal

Munich, 11 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - German politicians and officials today said the policy of "critical dialogue" with Iran has ended following the judgment of a German court that the highest-ranking Iranian government officials ordered the murder of four Kurds in Berlin. But they also say that Bonn should not break diplomatic relations with Teheran.

Iranian foreign ministry today strongly criticized Germany's justice system and described the Berlin verdict as "baseless, malicious, one-sided and unfair." Yesterday, Iran's Parliamentary speaker, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, said, during a visit to Moscow, that the verdict "does not correspond to reality."

Bonn's policy of "critical dialogue" with Iran was designed to develop cooperative trade relations with Teheran, while maintaining critical distance from its domestic policies. The policy was carried out by Germany's Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, with a tacit support from the European Union (EU). But it was criticized by Germany's domestic opposition.

German commerce and industry have profitable relations with Iran. So do some other EU countries, particularly France. Germany is Iran's largest western trading partner. Between January and November last year, German companies exported goods worth DM 2,000-million ($1.2 billion) to Iran. Most of it was machinery and electronic goods. Iran also has a 22 percent stake in the German steelmaker Krupp-Hoesch, and has recently shown interest in acquiring companies in eastern Germany.

Karl Lamers, the foreign political spokesman of the Christian Democrat party, the major partner in the Bonn Government, called for a suspension of the "critical dialogue" and a re-examination of Germany's ties with Iran. But he said a break in relations would not bring progress towards democracy in Iran.

The opposition SPD party called for a "cooling of relations," but also said that a complete break in relations would not be useful. The SPD spokesman rejected economic sanctions, arguing that Germany would only damage itself.

The environmental party in the federal parliament, the Greens, also rejected a complete break in relations, but said relations should be "frozen" for a long period. In particular, the Greens demanded that the EU maintain the recall of their ambassadors for a long period, and said it is unacceptable that relations return soon to "business as usual."

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" said in an editorial that: "naturally there are national interests which sometimes have to be protected in a questionable manner," and the newspaper argued against a complete break between Bonn and Teheran. The Munich "Suddeutsche Zeitung" said continuing relations should not be considered "classical appeasement of people with blood on their hands. Rather should be called, realpolitik, because there is no other course" to be taken with a nation, which is militarily important on the Persian Gulf and an important player in the Middle East.

Some of the toughest German reporting has come from German television. The television carried several reports on the activity of Iranian governments agents in Germany. The television report criticized the federal Government, particularly Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, for his persistence in maintaining the "critical dialogue" with Iran, despite its world-wide reputation for terrorism. It said the EU had enough evidence about the truth of Iran's activities. The German television also recalled that the head of Iran's secret service, Ali Fallahian, visited Bonn in October 1993 to discuss closer cooperation in the struggle against Communism. The visit was organized by Bernd Schmidbauer, the German Government's co-ordinator of the intelligence services. But in March last year, Germany issued an arrest warrant for Fallahian for his role in the Berlin murders. He was the only high-ranking Iranian official named in yesterday's verdict.

Reports in the German media say the information which led to the arrest of the killers came from the much-criticized German foreign intelligence agency, the BND. The intelligence agency apparently obtained the names from an Iranian defector, who is described only as a "high-ranking Iranian source."

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" said that for weeks the BND had been monitoring all telephone, fax and telex messages between Germany and Iran to prepare for violence which might be planned in connection with the trial. In particular, the telephone, fax and telex connections to the Iranian embassy in Bonn were also monitored. Yesterday's verdict also had an echo in Austria. Austrian television last night showed film of the murder in Vienna in July 1989 of three members of an Iranian opposition movement known as DPK-I. Austrian television said the suspected killers were able to leave the country easily. It quoted the police as saying that at the time they did not have sufficient evidence to hold the men.

Meanwhile, Iran appears busy seeking to develop closer relations with other, apparently less critical, countries, among them: Russia.

Speaking yesterday in the State Duma, Nateq-Nuri emphasized that "Iranian-Russian relations are built on a solid foundation, long-term prospects and continuing interests." Today, Nateq-Nuri met President Boris Yeltsin, who said that cooperative relations between Iran and Russia "will consolidate and develop."

And also today, the Moscow daily "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" reported that Russia was "prepared" to consider deliveries of anti-aircraft defense system to Iran to protect the construction of a "nuclear power station" in Bushehr and "other strategic establishments."

It is perhaps too early to speculate whether the fallout from the Berlin verdict will produce a lasting shift in Iran's international economic policies away from Western Europe and toward the East. But there is reason to assume that the short-term effects of the German court's judgement and the EU's decision to suspend its links to Teheran will make current trade contacts more strained and complicated.