Germany raises Iran's export credits
By Haig Simonian in Berlin
July 11, 2000
The German government announced a fivefold increase in export credit
guarantees in an attempt to boost trade with Iran after initial meetings
with Mohammad Khatami, the country's pro-reform president. Photos
Economic relations took precedence over human rights issues as the Iran
leader began a three-day state visit to Germany criticised by both conservative
opponents at home and Iranian exiles in Europe.
A surprisingly relaxed Mr Khatami declined to discuss human rights matters
at a brief news conference with Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor,
However, members of the German delegation said human rights had been
discussed at a 30-minute tete-a-tete between the two, during which Mr Schröder
specifically raised the issue of 10 Iranian Jews tried for spying for Israel.
The chancellor also inquired after Iranian reformers arrested after attending
a conference in Germany.
"We made it clear we want to create a really substantial new start
in relations between Germany and Iran," said Mr Schröder. "But
we also discussed questions which are controversial and on which we disagreed."
The chancellor said the talks had included measures to fight drugs trafficking
and international terrorism.
Mr Khatami, whose visit to Germany follows ground-breaking trips to
Italy and France last year, is keen to bolster relations with Europe and
advance a hesitant dialogue with the US. In spite of opposition among the
116,000-strong Iranian community in Germany, Berlin officials have emphasised
the need to support his policy of gradual opening.
Mr Khatami, who lived briefly in Germany as Imam of Hamburg in 1978,
stressed the role improved relations with Berlin, and Europe, could play
for his country. "We want a world in which all peoples are respected.
No power should be able to close opportunities to others because of its
strength. Europe has a special role in a multi-polar world," he said.
The German government believes that boosting Iran economically will
bolster Mr Khatami's own standing. To that end, Mr Schröder said the
increase in credit guarantees to DM1bn (E420m, $400m) could be stepped
up. "Of course, we will get involved in big projects, when the opportunities
arise," he said.
Although the new figure is five times higher than the DM200m guaranteed
previously, it remains a fraction of the DM4-DM5bn some industry leaders
had been calling for. "The increase is a good start, but will not
be enough in the long term," said Klaus Lederer, chairman of the Babcock
Borsig engineering group and head of the German business federation's north
African and Middle East initiative.
Mr Khatami, stressing his message of co-operation between cultures,
gained little sense of the protests against his visit, amid unprecedented
security in Berlin. "Every opposition has the right to express itself.
I won't protest against that," he said.