German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder began a seven-country tour of the Persian Gulf region on Sunday. While he'll promote German business interests, Iran, Iraq and the Mid East peace process are also high on the agenda.
Chancellor Schröder last visited the region in 2003
The trip will take Schröder to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is his second to the region in the space of 18 months.
As is often the case on the chancellor's visits abroad, he will take along a delegation of German business leaders. Their interest in the region is high as proven by the fact that 190 firms applied to accompany Schröder -- only 70 managed to get a seat on the plane, however.
Schröder (2nd from right) inaugurates a fountain in the UAE'´s Liwa oasis in 2003
One of the biggest projects is a $1.3-billion (€985-million) petro-chemical plant in Bahrain set to be built in a joint venture involving Germany's Linde Group. The Bahraini government warned this week it was not yet ready to sign contracts for work to begin on the project.
German technology giant Siemens is eyeing a €430-million power plant contract in the UAE, where Germany's Rheinmetall is expected to sell 32 tanks for €160 million. Yemen has voiced interest in buying 10 patrol boats for €100 million.
Not pushy about reforms
Germany also wants to "encourage a reform process" but insists this should be a matter for the countries themselves. For the German government, industrial development in the Gulf can go hand in hand with democratic progress.
"We want to support the modernization initiatives in a region of strategic importance," a German government source told AFP.
Region's support "essential" on Iran
The current nuclear crisis with Iran will also play a role during Schröder's trip.
"Support from the countries in the region is essential if Iran is to be brought out of its current isolation," the source said.
Iranian security adviser Hassan Rohani and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in Berlin on Friday
Germany is opposed to Iran developing a nuclear weapon and is part of the European Union effort to dissuade Tehran from destabilizing the region with an arms race. Berlin feels that Iran does not for the moment represent a danger to its neighbors but notes the nuclear issue could instantly change that.
Schröder is also likely to seek assurances that the Gulf states support efforts to reach a peaceful solution in the Middle East now that hopes have been raised since Mahmoud Abbas took over as Palestinian leader.
Meeting Iraqi soldiers
A German soldier (in the back) instructs Iraqi soldiers in the UAE last December
In the UAE, where he will conclude his trip on March 5, Schröder will meet Iraqi officers being put through their paces by German instructors in one of the only projects linked to the Iraq war that Germany has so far supported.
A total of 420 Iraqi police have already been trained and the next phase, beginning in April, will involve techniques for rebuilding bridges and roads.
Launching DW-TV's Arabic service
During his visit to Kuwait on Monday, Schröder will officially launch Deutsche Welle's new Arabic TV program.