German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has completed a six-day tour of the Gulf State region. At the center of the visits was Iran's nuclear program. Peter Philipp analyzes the FM's talks with regional leaders.
The red carpet was rolled out for Steinmeier in the Persian Gulf -- but not much more
When German politicians travel abroad, bilateral talks -- for example questions on trade -- typically are at the top of the agenda. This is particularly true when dealing with financially powerful countries like the oil kingdoms in the Persian Gulf, whom Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited on a six-day tour of the region. As usual, an entourage of German business leaders accompanied him.
Unlike the normal visit, though, when gas liquefaction refineries or the like are at the forefront of meetings -- subjects that German industry can competently deal with in the Gulf -- the international debate about Iran's nuclear policies was the number one item.
FM Steinmeier was a little too optimistic, though, to have thought that he could win over the Gulf States to the side of Europe and the US vis-à-vis Iran. After all, the small emirates live in the shadow of the Iranians. Some have Shiite majorities. For many rulers, the thought of a stronger Iran leaves them sick to their stomach.
Tehran shouldn't have atomic weapons, but …
Iran and its president Ahmadinejad loom over the Gulf region
It is a long way however from such feelings of discomfort to joining the West openly against Iran. Steinmeier found this out quite clearly in the last few days.
The strongest opposition to the anti-Iran stance was his last stop -- Qatar. His counterpart Hamad Bin Yassim contradicted his guest from Germany by saying that Qatar did not view Iran's nuclear policies as a danger to the country. Qatar rejected putting pressure on Tehran, most of all, because there was no evidence that Iran had plans to build atomic weapons.
In the other countries on his visit, Steinmeier heard friendly words of agreement that Iran should not become a nuclear power but nobody was prepared to join the USA and Europe in taking a harder stance against Iran. In fact, the Gulf Cooperation Council wants to send a delegation to Tehran to talk directly with the Iranians about the nuclear matter.
Germany's influence in Mideast minimal
Oil refineries were low on the list of topics during Steinmeier's tour
Apart from an exchange of friendly words, this trip was of little worth. The economic relations between Germany and the Gulf are good, but it is impossible to overtake the Americans and the British.
Politically, Germany does not play an important role in the region. It can do neither anything about Iraq, where Germany is just as helpless as the international community, nor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There, it is everyone's belief that only the USA, if anybody, can accomplish something. Frank-Walter Steinmeier felt this in no uncertain terms.
And regarding the third question that currently dominates the region, Iran's nuclear program, its neighbors are not ready to subscribe to the more aggressive stance of the West.