German foreign minister in hot water over effort to bypass Iran sanctions
By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is under fire for seeking to circumvent powerful pending US financial sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, betraying his country’s pledge to combat antisemitism and Holocaust denial.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday that Maas’s efforts to undercut American measures contradict Berlin’s stated goal to combat antisemitism and protect Israel’s security.
“Circumventing sanctions on an Iranian regime that is committed in word and deed to destroy Israel for financial gain for German companies makes a mockery of that [Berlin’s] commitment” to implement the lessons of the Holocaust, said Cooper.
Cooper expressed regret that Maas, who is in the Social Democratic Party, has aligned himself with ayatollahs in Tehran, because “The Wiesenthal Center knows Foreign Minister Maas as a friend of the Jewish community and a person who takes [to heart] the legacy and responsibility of the Nazi Holocaust.”
Maas wrote on Tuesday in the German business daily Handelsblatt, “That we will not allow you to go over our heads, and at our expense. That is why it was right to protect European companies legally from sanctions. It is therefore essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels independent of the US, a European monetary fund and an independent SWIFT [payments] system. The devil is in thousands of details. But every day that the Iran [nuclear] agreement lasts is better than the potentially explosive crisis that threatens the Middle East otherwise.”
The US wants Iran cut off from SWIFT – the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication – to force Tehran to return to the negotiating table to reach a new agreement to stop Iran’s drive to become a nuclear weapons power and end its jingoism in the Middle East. Severing Iran’s ties to the Brussels-based SWIFT, which facilitates cross-nation financial transactions, would help further strangle Iran’s jittery economy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel rebuked Maas on Wednesday for his Handelsblatt article, urging Europe to bypass US sanctions on Iran’s regime with an alternative to SWIFT.
“On the question of independent payment systems, we have some problems in our dealings with Iran, no question, on the other hand we know that on questions of terrorist financing, for example, SWIFT is very important,” Merkel said.
THE US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May because it does not stop the regime from developing nuclear weapons, bring an end to Iranian terrorism or advance US security interests, President Donald Trump said.
Maas continued to double down on his defense of the nuclear deal and protecting trade with Iran’s clerical rulers.
Maas, who said he went into politics because of Auschwitz and who visited the Nazi concentration camp on Monday, faced sharp criticism from one of Germany’s most respected journalists, Henryk M. Broder. Maas claimed at Auschwitz, “We need this place because our responsibility never ends.”
Broder asked in an article on the popular website The Axis of Good: “Does it belong to the never-ending responsibility that the [German] federal government follows the EU law requiring that German firms oppose the US sanctions against Iran?”
Deidre Berger, head of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee, told the Post on Thursday:
“Now is the time to undertake all possible steps to overcome differing US and European approaches to trade with Iran. We need measures that will create greater transatlantic unity in dealing with Iran, rather than enabling the Iranian regime to continue its domestic and external campaigns of terror. Let us focus on our common transatlantic goal, namely, to stop Iranian nuclear ambitions and its deadly meddling in the region, as well as its ruthless global activities as the world’s largest purveyor of terrorism.”
She added, “The lifting of sanctions has not brought political reform, economic progress or civil liberties. To the contrary, Iranians protest throughout the country that the regime has diverted the funds to pay for wars and terrorism. Europe should stop trade with Iran until the mullah regime takes concrete steps to stop its global terror campaign, respect human rights and desist with antisemitic and anti-Israel propaganda.”
When asked about the criticism from the Wiesenthal Center, the AJC, and Broder, Maas declined to respond to Post queries.
Dr. Elvira Groezinger, the head of the German section of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, said, “Our German foreign policy as part of the foreign policy line of the European Union ignores the facts that Rohani is not a ‘moderate’ president… Human rights are violated there while the Sharia is being just as strictly implemented as before, and Iran is still inciting terror acts by radical Shiite Moslems, thus fueling the conflicts in the Middle East.”
“Iran’s leading role in the Syrian civil war, due to the migrant crisis it caused, has contributed even to the destabilization of the EU. All this and more should have alarmed the politicians and make them more careful,” Groezinger said.
She added, “German commerce has re-embraced this [Iranian] market ardently and forgot all the moral reservations it should have, especially being the professed best friend of Israel. Germany’s special responsibility for Israel’s existence in security and peace due to the history should never fade – and Iran threatens Israel with a new Auschwitz. This should ring a bell in the ears of Minister Maas, who declared that he became a politician because of Auschwitz.”
“I hope that all this will finally prevail over the ‘pecunia non olet’-mentality of the German government, and I expect Minister Maas and others to dissociate themselves from such a criminal commerce partner,” Groezinger said.
THE HEAD of Germany’s roughly 100,000-member Jewish umbrella organization, Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dr. Josef Schuster, said on Thursday that he supported the end of economic ties with Iran.
“Any trade with Iran means a benefit for radical and terrorist forces and a hazard and destabilization for the region,” Schuster said.
“The Central Council of Jews in Germany has been criticizing the German-Iranian trade relations for a long time. It seems paradoxical that Germany – as a country that is said to have learned from its horrendous past and which has a strong commitment to fight antisemitism – is one of the strongest economic partners of a regime that is blatantly denying the Holocaust and abusing human rights on a daily basis.”
“Besides, Germany has included Israel’s security as a part of its ‘reasons of state,’” he said. “As a matter, of course this should exclude doing business with a fanatic dictatorship that is calling for Israel’s destruction, pursuing nuclear weapons and financing terror organizations around the world.”
Schuster continued, “It is high time to ask oneself where the money that Iran is earning by this trade is going. Furthermore, we witness demonstrations in Iran of people that are yearning for freedom and equality. We should stand up for these people who are risking their lives because they are asking for rights that we here can fortunately take for granted.”
The German Bild paper reported in August that the Industry and Chamber of Commerce in Bonn/Rhein-Sieg in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is slated to hold a conference promoting business with Iran on September 5. Roughly 120 German companies are conducting business in Iran, with employees based in the Islamic Republic. There are 10,000 German businesses engaged in commerce with Iran, and Germany exported $3.42 billion worth of goods to Iran in 2017.
GERMANS WHO promote business with Tehran are worried.
Michael Tockuss, the head of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce in Hamburg, told business website finanzmarktwelt, “In general, we recommend that German companies be very careful about contact with US representatives. In the end, one does not know where the information goes after it is given.”
The US government and its ambassador to Berlin, Richard Grenell, have urged German companies to wind down business with Iran.
Julie Lenarz, a senior fellow at The Israel Project in Washington, DC, told the Post, “All governments should make trade ties with Iran contingent upon the Islamic Republic’s end to its global sponsorship of terror, illicit nuclear ambitions and suppression of basic rights at home.”
She said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the formal name for the 2015 Iran deal – “was a disaster – a patient pathway to the bomb – and the Trump administration did the only responsible thing re-imposing sanctions, thereby putting pressure on the regime and forcing them back to the negotiation table on our terms.”
“Europe, and Germany in particular, are throwing the mullah regime – confronted with an economy in free fall, a collapsing currency and rising popular dissent – a much needed lifeline by boycotting the sanctions,” Lenarz said. “It makes them directly complicit in the crimes committed by Iran.”
If Iran wants the economic benefits of being a member of the international community, it should behave accordingly, or Germany should immediately end its immoral trade with Iran and support the long-suffering Iranian people in ending the clerical dictatorship.