Iran and Germany to strengthen cultural and economic ties

Jul 11, 2000 02:00 AM

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami was bringing his message of a "new beginning" with the West to German business leaders, but was dogged by criticism of his country's human rights record.
Several hundred exiled Iranian dissidents staged protests around the city, and one protester was detained after a paint-filled bag was thrown at a parked car belonging to the Iranian delegation. But overall, protests against Iran's clerical leaders ebbed after drawing a police-estimated 7,000 demonstrators into Berlin streets as Khatami began his visit. Police said about 50 Iranian activists detained in Berlin on suspicion of planning violent protests had been released.
The first Iranian leader to visit Germany since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, Khatami sought to focus the talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on strengthening cultural and economic ties. Schroeder announced his government would offer more export credit guarantees for German companies doing business with Iran and revive a bilateral panel on economic co-operation dormant since 1991.

Khatami met with Germany's conservative opposition leader and the mayor of Berlin before an address to a group of German business leaders, in search of much-needed investment from one of his country's biggest trading partners.
In remarks introducing Khatami, Economics Minister Werner Mueller said Iran's cautious opening of its economy was "a hopeful sign" and encouraged Khatami to "pursue your reform course resolutely." "We view Iran as a 'global player' in the Middle East, with high responsibility for stability in the region," Mueller said in his prepared remarks.
But German opposition leaders insisted that business should not be put ahead of human rights and criticised Schroeder for refraining from a public statement about Iran's record. Among the recent strains in German-Iranian relations was the two-year ordeal of German businessman Helmut Hofer, who was sentenced to death twice in Tehran for an alleged relationship with an Iranian woman before being acquitted and released in January. "I do think it's necessary to say publicly that the human rights situation in Iran is not the best," Ruprecht Polenz, a leader of the conservative Christian Democratic party, said.

Party chairwoman Angela Merkel also raised the issues of human rights and the situation of women in Iran in her talk with Khatami, officials said. A business group welcomed the economic steps announced by Schroeder, saying the rise in oil prices has boosted Iran's oil revenue and made it a more attractive partner. Michael Pfeiffer, foreign trade expert at the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, said he was confident that "Iran is developing into a stable country." Schroeder also raised concerns about human rights in Iran. German officials said the discussions included the recent convictions of 10 Iranian Jews as alleged spies for Israel - a charge Israel has denied.
Khatami, a moderate cleric, has pursued a course of cautious liberalisation and opening to the West since his 1997 election - overtures limited to Europe since the United States largely still shuns Iran. Khatami visited Italy and France last year.
German leaders say they wanted to give Khatami support against powerful Islamic hard-liners who oppose reform.

Source: AP
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