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Cautious optimism

Jeanette Seiffert / cmkNovember 25, 2013

There was relief in Germany after the news broke of a breakthrough in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Many only see Sunday's deal as a first step, but the German economy could benefit in the meantime.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (L-R) shake hands after a ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva November 24, 2013. Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough agreement early on Sunday to curb Tehran's nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief, in a first step towards resolving a dangerous decade-old standoff. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse (SWITZERLAND - Tags: POLITICS ENERGY)
Image: Reuters

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who attended the negotiations with Iran in Geneva along with the representatives of the UN veto powers Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and the US, called Sunday's breakthrough deal a turning point.

"We have come a crucial step closer to our goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran," he said.

After years of negotiations, Iran on Sunday declared itself ready, for the first time, to dismantle parts of its nuclear program and stop any further expansion. But Iran must meet these commitments in the next six months, and Ruprecht Polenz, the former chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag, and an expert on Iran, has cautioned against too high expectations.

Polenz said the current deal has given negotiators time for further talks. "Iran has signed off on a lot for the next six months, and above all, it has accepted the relevant control measures to ensure its compliance with the deal," he told DW in an interview.

Germany as mediator

Omid Nouripour, Foto: Karlheinz Schindler
Nouripour said Germany contributed an important part to the success of the dealImage: picture-alliance/dpa

But in the view of German Green Party member Omid Nouripour, the details of the deal are not that critical. "There has been no breakthrough in the conflict itself, but in the act of cooperating with each other," he said. Originally from Iran, he is the Green Party's security spokesman.

"It's a breakthrough because two years ago, it wasn't even possible for the two parties to be sitting at the same table. And today we have negotiated interim solutions," said Nouripour. This had mainly to do with the fact that the new Iranian government of President Hassan Rouhani had put itself under a great deal of time pressure - and that the US had been prepared to reach out to Iran.

Nouripour also claimed German representatives made an important contribution to this success. "Germany played a good role in holding together the international community - the Russians and Chinese on one side, and the Americans on the other side. And then the Europeans, who also don't always agree," he told DW.

Fresh start for German-Iranian economic ties?

Of primary interest to the Iranians was certainly the loosening of economic sanctions against the country. And this has been achieved, at least in part. In return for the far-reaching concessions in the nuclear program, certain sanctions on gold and precious metals and in the automotive and chemical industries will be lifted. Iranian airlines will also be able to gain access to spare parts for their aging jets.

Polenz thinks the lifting of sanctions could also bring economic benefits for Germany, as trade with Iran once again becomes possible. "Germany has been fully involved in the sanctions - and now if parts of these sanctions are loosened, German economic interests could be affected," he said.

Polenz added that restrictions in the oil sector and on financial transactions are expected to remain for the time being. "And that's a good thing, until a final agreement is negotiated and put into effect," said Polenz.

Ruprecht Polenz (CDU), Foto: Fredrik von Erichsen/dpa
Polenz has cautioned against too high expectationsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Iran's evolving interests

The deciding factor will be whether the Iranians prove reliable and actually implement the results of the negotiations. Nouripour is optimistic. "My impression is that the Iranians are serious because their interests have changed. Syria has become significantly more important than the nuclear issue," he said.

Polenz, however, is more critical, saying that the coming months will reveal whether Iran is merely playing for time. "I would advise against that for Iran, because then the sanctions would indeed be reinstated," he said.

But the West also has interests that go beyond the nuclear issue, added Polenz, saying that the West needed to take advantage of further negotiations to address these issues. "This includes, in particular, the catastrophic human rights situation. Rouhani has taken first steps in this area, but we need to make it clear that we expect more from him."