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Private Diplomacy

DPA news agency (tt)
February 22, 2009

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after delivering a speech in Tehran criticizing the Iranian leader's stance against Israel and his denial of the Holocaust.

Schroeder, left, speaks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Schroeder's chat with Ahmadinejad, right, has kicked up a storm in GermanyImage: AP

The meeting took place on Saturday, Feb. 21, behind closed doors in the president's offices. A brief statement afterwards said the two had exchanged ideas about regional and international issues. Ahmadinejad also urged global cooperation to solve the world's problems.

In Berlin, Germany's Central Council of Jews criticized Schroeder's plan to meet with Ahmadinejad, who has denied that the Holocaust occurred.

In Tehran, Schroeder commented that Iran appeared to have good intentions for a new beginning in relations to the West, but developments had not gone as one had hoped.

Schroeder said Iran and the West should set a goal of not letting talks collapse, as they have in the past years, but rather of bringing them to a successful conclusion.

Eyewitnesses said the meeting took place in a tense and cool atmosphere. There were hints that the meeting could have been cancelled after Schroeder's earlier remarks, but diplomatic channels kept it alive.

A private visit

Israel and Iran flags, on texture with radiation symbol, partial graphic
Schroeder urged Iran to participate in finding a solution for the Mideast probelmImage: AP

Schroeder, in Iran on a private visit, also met with Parliament President Ali Larijani and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

In contrast to the tense meeting with Ahmadinejad, Schroeder's meeting with former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami -- who plans to run against Ahmadinejad in the June elections -- was congenial.

The two politicians spoke German, which Khatami learned when he lived in Hamburg as a moderate cleric before the Islamic revolution in 1979.

"We are good and old friends and when we were both in office, the countries had the best relations," Khatami told DPA news service after the meeting.

Khatami said efforts were in gear to find a diplomatic solution in the conflict over Iran's uranium enrichment program, which has produced more than 1,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, according to a report released this past week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA.)

The amount, if subjected to further processing, would be enough to create an atomic weapon, according to non-proliferation experts.

Opening a dialogue

A man holds a portrait of the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during an anti-Israeli rally
Iran has often made it clear that it does not believe in Israel's right to existImage: AP

Schroeder emphasized during the meeting that after 30 years, Iran should accept the offer of the new US President Barack Obama to open a dialogue.

Schroeder said Iran could play a positive role in Afghanistan, for example by supporting Kabul in its fight against the drug trade, and in Iraq and in the Middle East.

Ahmadinejad has greeted the possibility of talks with the United States, but also demanded apologies for its alleged mistreatment of Iran and talks at the highest level. The US has charged that Iran backs Islamist militants in the region to stir up trouble and increase its influence.

In Germany, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews Stephan Kramer criticized the Schroeder-Ahmadinejad meeting in an interview with the Hanover daily Neue Presse: "Mr. Schroeder is greatly damaging the reputation of Germany and the German government."

Kramer said that by meeting the Iranian president, Schroeder was supporting Ahmadinejad and his government, and appealed for the former chancellor to cancel his engagement, "on the grounds of human rights."

In his speech to the Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Teheran, the former German chancellor criticized the Iranian president's stance against Israel and denial of Holocaust history.

"The Holocaust is an historic fact and there is no sense in denying this unparalleled crime," Schroeder said.

Taking responsibility

Israel and Iran flags, on texture with radiation symbol, partial graphic
Schroeder was invited to Iran by German-based Iranian neurosurgeon Majid Samii, leftImage: AP

Schroeder said Iran needed to take responsibility and respect international rules, if the country wanted to be taken seriously as a regional power.

The former German chancellor added that comments about the Holocaust would merely distract from attempts to find a common solution to the Mideast conflict.

Iranian officials reacted promptly to the criticism of the former German chancellor.

The head of the Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce Mohammad Nahawandian said, "To find common solutions, we shouldn't forget the recent massacre of people in Gaza and should internationally condemn Israel for it."

It would be wrong to "measure the developments in the Middle East with two yardsticks," Nahwandian added.

Iran's ambassador in Berlin, Aliresa Sheikh-Attar, didn't think Schroeder's criticism of Ahmadinejad would damage ties between the two countries.

"The relations between Teheran and Berlin are too important to be overshadowed by a subject such as the Holocaust," Attar said.

During his time in office (1998-2005), Schroeder never visited Iran. He had been invited to Iran by a neurosurgeon who lives in Schroeder's hometown of Hannover.

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