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Friday, April 19, 2024

No chance for the sheikh

The Iranian ambassador to Germany is a loyal supporter of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Green Party’s Heinrich Böll Foundation had invited him and then had to retract its invitation.


Jungle World, 4 June 2009. 

By Jonny Weckerle

The U.S. government has announced that  it will be holding talks with Iran. In Germany, they had hoped to have progressed further than they have, at least on a semi-governmental level. For example, the Iranian ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, Ali Reza Sheikh Attar, was supposed to speak in Leipzig on June 16 about the importance of the Islamic Republic of Iran "as a political and economic partner for Germany." The Saxon office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Sächsische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung (Agency of the State of Saxony in Dresden to Promote Political Education), and Eurient (the Leipzig-based Association for a Transmediterranean Dialogue of Cultures), had invited the ambassador, but the ambassador was uninvited on Tuesday after heavy criticism and threats of protests.

Attar is not just the ambassador for a deadly regime, he is also personally responsible for numerous crimes, according to reports from exiled Iranian opposition members. He was the governor of the provinces of Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan from 1980 to 1985. "The security forces in Kurdistan committed numerous crimes under Sheikh Attar. Hundreds of Kurdish activists were hanged or shot in the streets. He personally watched several times as the units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG or Pasdaran) murdered people and destroyed their villages. This is how he was able to prove his loyalty to the regime and climb up the political ladder," Hiwa Bahrami, representative of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (DPKI) in Austria, told Jungle World. "Ali Reza Sheikh Attar and the current President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were both active in Kurdish areas as members of the Pasdaran," claims exiled author Ali Schirasi, who fled Iran in 1987. "His appointment as Iranian ambassador to Germany in October 2008 is part of Ahmadinejad’s strategy to fill as many important posts as possible with Pasdaran members. Schirasi adds "Attar is supposed to coordinate from Berlin the work of the other Iranian ambassadors in Western Europe."

The Saxon office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation was aware of just whom they had invited. As Stefan Schönfelder, the Foundation’s Managing Director said last week, "His entire personal role as governor is a problem." But apparently there wasn’t a problem that would have necessitated revoking the invitation at the time. The event was supposed to be an "exception" – besides, Amnesty International had been asked to set up an information booth. However, the ambassador was uninvited after all on Tuesday. "The impression that the ambassador’s character is particularly problematic has intensified," Schönfelder told Jungle World. He said the Foundation "did not see any chance to have a critical dialogue" with him.

The prospect of further protests against the event were probably more important than the understanding of the futility of a critical dialogue. Exiled Iranian filmmaker Kia Kiarostami was just one of many who had written protest letters to the organizations sponsoring and putting on the event. The Bündnis gegen Antisemitismus (Alliance again Antisemitism) in Leipzig, together with the Stop the Bomb Initiative and other groups, made it clear that the dialogue which the organizers were striving for with the Iranian ambassador would not happen without demonstrators, and called for a protest rally.

This is already the second snub within a short period of time for the ambassador. According to Jungle World, Attar had, at his own initiative, managed to appear in the unofficial programme of the "Nationalitätenfrage und Demokratie im Iran" (Problem of Ethnic Minorities and Democracy in Iran) conference, which is to be organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker (Society for Threatened Peoples) on June 20 in Frankfurt am Main. After protests and numerous presenters having cancelled their participation, Attar will not be speaking there either – although he is an expert in the conference topic of "Attacks, Persecution, Discrimination and Murder" due to his many years of experience in the persecution of non-Iranian and non-Shiite ethnic groups in Iran.

The thwarted event in Leipzig will certainly not be the last attempt to conduct a "critical dialogue" with the Iranian regime. A strategy paper written by the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik’s (German Institute for International and Security Affairs) expert on Iran, Johannes Reissner, for the SWP’s study Deutsche Nah-, Mittelost- und Nordafrikapolitik – Interessen, Strategien, Handlungsoptionen (Germany’s Middle East, Far East and North Africa Policies – Interests, Strategies, and Options), which was published in May, offers a foretaste. Reissner was originally supposed to hold a conversation with the Iranian ambassador in Leipzig. His text begins with the observation that "Ahmadinejad’s government’s nuclear programme and radical anti-Israel policies had severely curtailed Germany’s room to manoeuvre in its policies for Iran. Germany’s longstanding strategy of "not excluding" Iran presents a "danger," particularly for "German business interests," "long-term energy safety" and "regional stability." Instead of acting in a "politically correct" manner towards Israel, Germany should orient itself based on its "noted self-interests."

Reissner, as well as the current SWP Director Volker Perthes and his predecessor Christoph Bertram, go to a lot of trouble in studies, newspaper commentaries, and books, to generally present the Iranian regime’s Islamism and anti-Semitism as part of a rational pursuit of "security and development." While the political consultants seem to be cautiously optimistic in view of Barack Obama’s policies towards Iran, their tone is becoming more aggressive towards Israel. For example, in a text published on the Die Zeit website last week, Bertram stated that the West should "make it clear in no uncertain terms" to Israel that it rejects the idea of an attack on the Iranian nuclear power plants and that it would only "continue to support Israel’s security if Jerusalem would comply with this request." One should not encourage Israel to "endanger German and Western interests by keeping silent."

However, there are different views within the federal government and some German business interests on which relations with Iran would be beneficial for German interests. For example, Numov (the German Near and Middle East Association) recently held two German-Iranian economic conferences. Two hundred German companies attended the one in April in Düsseldorf, and the Iranian oil minister, Gholam-Hossein Nozari, attended the one in Berlin in early May. After the conference, Handelsblatt reported on a letter from the Federal Ministry of Economics in which it demanded that Numov cancel the conferences, since they were in "clear contradiction of the policies of the federal government" and "could result in massive foreign policy problems for Germany."

Nozari, on the other hand, had praised the advantages of good connections with Iran in interviews with Handelsblatt and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, by saying "Our country has essential natural gas supplies that are supposed to be delivered to Europe through a planned 'Persian pipeline' to satisfy the growing demand there and at the same time reduce dependency on Russia." However, the oil minister also had some demands. "Anyone who wants to have our gas will have to participate in pumping it in Iran." In other words, anyone who wants to receive natural gas should provide the regime – which controls large portions of the Iranian economy either directly or through the Revolutionary Guard troops – with the urgently needed infrastructure for the energy sector. According to Nozari, 500 billion dollars will need to be invested in the infrastructure by 2025. Nozari is confident: "Our importance will greatly increase. Time is working in our favour."