Khatami Breaks the Ice on Germany Visit
Iran's pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami concluded a groundbreaking visit to Germany on July 12. The trip largely succeeded in producing a thaw in bilateral relations. Ties had languished for several years because of several incidents. These included the implication of Iranian agents in the 1992 shootings of three Kurdish activists in a Berlin restaurant called Mykonos, and the case of Helmut Hofer, a German businessman sentenced to death in Iran for allegedly engaging in sexual relations with a Muslim woman. In January, Hofer was permitted to return to Germany, thus paving the way for Khatami's visit.
Since 1992, economic relations between Germany and Iran have withered. Trade has dropped by about 50 percent. During Khatami's visit to Germany, the German government announced that it would increase its export credit guarantees by up to 500 percent in an attempt to stimulate trade.
The question of Iran's human rights record did not figure prominently during Khatami's discussions with German political leaders. German leaders, however, did raise the issue of 10 Iranian Jews who were convicted of espionage recently by an Iranian court.
On July 12, EurasiaNet talked to Ellen Hasenkamp, a Brussels-based reporter for Agence France-Presse who covers European Union affairs, about the results of Khatami's visit. The text of the interview follows:
EurasiaNet: What were Khatami's goals for his visit to Germany and did he achieve those goals?
Hasenkamp: The chief goal was to produce a thaw in relations. The Hofer case and the Mykonos case, in addition to the death sentence issued against the author Salman Rushdie, had been major obstacles to good relations between Iran and Germany, and the European Union in general. For many years relations had been frozen. Khatami's effort to bring about a thaw began last year with a visit to Italy. The desire was to reestablish a political dialogue between Iran and Europe. The Germany visit was critical for the success of the Iranian initiative due to Germany's position as the most influential member of the European Union. Judging by the reactions of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other German officials, the visit should be characterized as a success from the Iranian viewpoint. All indicators are that Europe will very slowly and very cautiously proceed with restarting a dialogue with the Iranian government. Khatami can now go home and claim a diplomatic success.