Opinion

Regional realities see Germany focus on Gulf over Iran

Regional realities see Germany focus on Gulf over Iran

Author
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, right, and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Shiekh Mohammed bin Zayed at the Bellevue palace in Berlin. (AFP)

Berlin was last week the theater for events promoting deeper engagement between Germany and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. The events were organized by official groups such as the Federal Academy for Security Cooperation and private organizations like the German-Arab Friendship Society. In another sign of renewed interest in the GCC region, chambers of commerce were also active, as well as Germany’s three major foundations (Bertelsmann, Konrad Adenauer, Berghof), which participated fully in the happenings.

The return to active GCC-Germany engagement is in part a result of the energetic efforts of GCC embassies in Berlin and Germany’s diplomatic missions in the region. They have been trying to reverse recent trends of estrangement between the two sides as a result of their diverging views on regional issues, human rights, the war in Yemen, and the nuclear deal with Iran. Declining trade over four years may be another sign, with German exports to the GCC declining from around $32 billion in 2014 to $23 billion in 2018.

While diplomats deserve credit for the active return of GCC-German dialogue, there are also several political and economic factors that underpin the change. First, Germany has been disillusioned by Iran’s policies in the region. There was hope that signing the nuclear deal in 2015 and the accompanying rise in the country’s international standing would lead Iran to change its posture and become more compliant with international norms. However, the opposite has taken place. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps  has interpreted the deal as a license to increase its destabilizing activities in the region. The financial windfall was used in part to fund IRGC activities and those of its proxies. Iran’s brazen behavior was epitomized by threats to close the Strait of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab Strait and impede its neighbors’ oil exports. Those threats were followed by attacks on oil tankers and increased missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil installations. Germany has been critical of the reimposed US sanctions, but did not agree with Iran on how to resist them.

The recent visit by Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to Iran found that Tehran was not in a mood to climb down from its confrontational position. Iran’s breach of the nuclear deal’s limitations has alarmed Germany, its foremost champion within the EU. Now that those breaches have been confirmed, there are likely to be serious consequences.

Iran’s breach of the nuclear deal’s limitations has alarmed Germany, its foremost champion within the EU.

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

At the private level, Iran’s standing in Germany has also suffered significantly because of its hardening regional positions since the nuclear deal was signed, but especially since revelations about its role in perpetuating the Syrian refugee crisis and the criminal activities of Hezbollah in Europe. The only exception may be among the lunatic fringe, where some extremist groups have tried to find common cause with Iran, based on some mythical kinship between the two nations. It is reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s efforts to woo Iran to its camp against Russia and Britain. In 1939, Germany provided Iran with a “scientific library” of more than 7,500 books selected to convince Iranian readers of the kinship between the two ethnic groups. Germany remained Iran’s foremost foreign supporter and, for decades, its No. 1 trading partner. In recent years, some Germans of Iranian origin have participated in right-wing attacks on immigrants based on those Nazi notions.

The disillusion with Iran is especially clear in the German business community. The nuclear deal did not result in a trade boom and they found the Iranian market to be insignificant and hard to navigate. Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) is less than $400 billion and is quickly shrinking.

Trade between Germany and Iran has in fact collapsed despite Berlin and the EU’s efforts to facilitate that trade and get around US sanctions. German Chamber of Commerce information shows that German exports to Iran totaled about $525 million during the period January to April 2019, down a dramatic 49 percent compared to the same four months in 2018. Iranian exports to Germany, at around $92 million, were almost negligible in comparison.

It is estimated that about 60 German companies are still doing business in Iran, according to the Chamber’s data, but their numbers are declining and their footprint in the country is also shrinking.

With efforts failing to increase trade and investment flows with Iran, Germany’s businesses are seeking to return to their traditional partners in the GCC. The combined GCC GDP is $1.8 trillion, or 4.5 times Iran’s market. And Germany’s exports to the GCC are currently about $23 billion, or 50 times its exports to Iran.

The reality in the Gulf region is clearly affecting German attitudes. While there is palpable skepticism about US strategy on Iran, there appears to be even more frustration with Tehran’s brinkmanship, which is endangering international shipping in the Gulf and increasing its destabilizing regional activities and support for terrorist groups.

In addition to these factors, Germany would like to play peacemaker in the region. To be able to play a role in de-escalation, it cannot afford to be seen as siding with Iran against the US and GCC countries.

  • Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs & Negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Macron warns Tehran against further nuclear deal breaches

Emmanuel Macron urged Iran to fully abide by all terms of the accord. (AFP)
Updated 02 July 2019

Macron warns Tehran against further nuclear deal breaches

  • UN nuclear watchdog confirmed Monday Iran had amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted under the 2015 deal
  • European states unlikely to reimpose UN sanctions — for now

PARIS/DUBAI: France urged Iran on Tuesday to reverse its first major breach of a nuclear pact with world powers as European states signalled they would not seek to reimpose UN sanctions — for now.

The UN nuclear watchdog confirmed on Monday Iran had amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted under the 2015 deal, a move that prompted US President Donald Trump to say Iran was “playing with fire.”

Exceeding the limit could culminate in the return of all international sanctions on Tehran but one European diplomat, asked if Europe would trigger the dispute resolution mechanism enshrined in the accord, said:

“Not for now. We want to defuse the crisis.”

A second diplomat said Britain, France and Germany would focus on bringing Iran back into compliance and that they wanted to gain more time for dialogue.

“In the immediate term, Iran must return to its obligations. There is room for dialogue,” a French diplomatic source added.

Tensions with Iran have escalated since Trump pulled the United States out of the pact last year and moved to bar all international sales of Iranian oil. Washington also blames Iran for bomb attacks on ships in the Gulf, something Tehran denies.

In a joint statement Tuesday, the foreign ministers of Germany, France, the UK as well as the European Union's foreign policy chief said that "we have been consistent and clear that our commitment to the nuclear deal depends on full compliance by Iran." They called for Iran to reverse the move "and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal."

They added that they "are urgently considering next steps" under the terms of the agreement in close coordination with other signatories.

The three European countries, Russia and China remained on board the 2015 deal meant to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions after the United States withdrew last year.

Opinion

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European signatories to the nuclear accord have sought to pull back the longstanding foes from direct confrontation, fearing a mistake could lead to war accidentally.
At the same time they are under US pressure to reimpose their own sanctions to force Iran to comply with an agreement Washington abandoned against Europe’s advice.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denies Iran is in violation of the accord, saying Iran is exercising its right to respond following the US pullout.
China, like France a signatory to the deal, said it regretted Iran’s move but urged all parties to exercise restraint and said the US policy of increasing pressure on Iran was the “root cause of the current tensions.”
The nuclear deal lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear work. It aimed to extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.
Iran’s main demand — in talks with the European parties to the deal and as a precondition to any talks with the United States — is to be allowed to sell its oil at the levels before Washington pulled out of the deal and restored sanctions.
Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) or less in late June, industry sources said, a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal.
Iran says it will breach the deal’s nuclear curbs one by one until it is able to sell that amount of oil, saying this is the least it should be able to expect from an accord that offered economic gains in exchange for nuclear restrictions.
In a statement, French President Emmanuel Macron urged Iran to fully abide by all terms of the accord and “reverse without delay this excess, as well as to avoid all extra measures that would put into question its nuclear commitments.”
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported that the country's enriched uranium stockpile had passed the 300kg limit allowed under the deal.
“We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to the deal by the abbreviation of its formal title, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
He referred to a paragraph of the accord dealing with the dispute resolution mechanism.
Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani accused Trump of trying to bully Tehran with his remark about playing with fire, and said such language would only made Iran stronger.
Zarif reacted with exasperation to a White House accusation that Tehran had long violated the terms of the deal.
“Seriously?” he said in a one-word message on Twitter, after White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that “there is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms.”
Her comment contrasted with CIA Director Gina Haspel’s testimony in January to the Senate Intelligence Committee that “at the moment, technically, they are in compliance.”
Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the White House charge was illogical.
He said that at the time the nuclear deal was concluded, Tehran and the IAEA agreed on a roadmap through which Iran was addressing the nuclear watchdog’s unanswered questions about the nuclear weapons research program that the IAEA and the US intelligence community assessed ended in 2003.
“The process is still underway,” he said.


Protective of religious beards, Israel to produce fitted face masks

Updated 16 min 14 sec ago

Protective of religious beards, Israel to produce fitted face masks

  • As part of measures to combat the epidemic, Israeli authorities last week told people to cover their mouths and noses in public
  • A spokesman for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has said it might consider issuing a ruling permitting religious Jews to shave

JERUSALEM: Israelis who have beards for religious reasons will get the option of custom-made face masks to protect them from the coronavirus rather than being told to shave, a government official said on Monday.
As part of measures to combat the epidemic, Israeli authorities last week told people to cover their mouths and noses in public.
Many of the country’s Jews and Muslims, and some Christian clergymen, wear beards as a mark of faith, and the order raised questions as to how facial hair would be accommodated.
Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto said masks would be adapted accordingly.
“We are creating an industrial certification for masks, which means that in a few days there will really be masks of different sizes,” he told Army Radio.
.”..(So) those with beards will be able to use the appropriate masks.”
A spokesman for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has said it might consider issuing a ruling permitting religious Jews to shave if the ministry were to deem it necessary.
Grotto said seeking a rabbinical dispensation to remove facial hair was “not on the agenda right now.”