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Khatami to visit Germany after clear-up of Hofer case

BERLIN, Oct 17 (AFP) - Iran's President Mohammed Khatami will visit Germany when the case of detained German businessman Helmut Hofer has been resolved, the head of the chancellor's office indicated in an interview published Sunday.

The principle of a visit in the near future is already agreed, but no date has been fixed.

"Such a visit could not be a success unless it was not burdened or overshadowed by cases from the past," state secretary Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in the interview with Die Welt am Sonntag.

It is in that context that one should regard the efforts to secure Hofer's release, the minister was quoted as saying, stating that both governments were striving in order that "Khatami's visit will take place soon."

"Despite Mr. Hofer's new remand in custody, we have not given up hope that it (the visit) will soon be possible," the minister said.

Hofer was arrested in 1997 accused of having illicit sex with an Iranian medical student and subsequently sentenced to death. That was commuted to a heavy fine, but despite payment of the fine, he remains in detention.

On Thursday, he was remanded in custody after a re-arrest, accused this time of insulting a police officer. According to Hofer's lawyer Saturday, he was expected to remain in detention in Tehran for at least another week.

Nasser Taheri explained that he went to court Saturday to see the judge in the case and to inform himself of the latest developments, but that the judge had taken a week's holiday. Hofer, 57, has already spent 20 months in prison.

In an interview in the German weekly Focus, the chairman of the German parliamentary interior affairs committee, Willfried Penner, described the re-arrest as tantamount to "hostage-taking" by the Iranian state.

Penner, of the ruling Social Democrat Party, said the affair showed the arbitrary nature of justice in Iran. Such statements are "not helpful," Steinmeier remarked.

"German-Iranian relations have suffered in the past from considerable irritants and aggravating problems, including the Hofer case. But the two sides are striving, through numerous conversations, including recently, to build constructive relations," he said in the interview.

"The German government can naturally not be content that a new warrant for remand in custody as been issued against Hofer.

"But regarding Khatami, one must laud Hofer's being cleared of having had relations with an Iranian woman as a remarkable signal," Steinmeier said.

One also "could not ignore" the fact that President Khatami "has with courage and energy led Iran back into the world community," he added.

Before the Hofer case, relations between Germany and Iran were already severely strained by the 1992 assassination in Berlin of four Kurdish Iranian opposition figures and its aftermath.

In the investigation and trial of the killers, the prosecution portrayed the accused as having acted on orders emanating from the highest levels of the Iranian state.

The organiser of the assassinations, the Iranian government agent Kazem Darabi, has been sentenced to life imprisonment, and there has been suggestion that Tehran wants to trade Hofer for release of the assassin.


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