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German minister travels to Iran to re-establish ties

German Chancellor Angela Merkel smiling to Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel (left) during a meeting of party leaders and faction heads at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany. Photo: Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel smiling to Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel (left) during a meeting of party leaders and faction heads at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany. Photo: Reuters

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel arrived in Iran with an economic delegation yesterday, becoming the first high-ranking western politician to visit the country after it struck a nuclear deal with world powers.

By travelling to Tehran with a delegation of industry group representatives and company officials, Gabriel sends a strong signal that Germany wants to quickly rebuild economic and political ties with Iran after a 12-year standoff over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Under an agreement struck on Tuesday, sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and UN will be lifted in exchange for Iran agreeing long-term curbs on a nuclear programme that the West thought was intended to make a nuclear bomb. Tehran has always denied seeking nuclear arms.

“The agreement reached between the E3+3 and Iran in Vienna has laid the foundations for a normalisation of economic relations with Iran,” Gabriel said before setting off. E3+3 refers to the group of countries that negotiated with Iran.

“The precondition for this is that the steps foreseen in the agreement are now implemented,” said Gabriel, who is also Germany’s vice chancellor. Germany’s DIHK chambers of trade and commerce has forecast that German exports could double to about €5 billion within just two years and companies like Volkswagen and Siemens as well as thousands of smaller family-owned firms are eager to take back their dominant role in shipments to Iran.

Gabriel will hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and several ministers during his three-day trip to Iran. He told German newspaper Bild he would use the trip to suggest that Germany could be a mediator between Iran and its arch-enemy Israel and said he would insist that the Iranian government recognise Israel’s right to exist.

Exports from Germany to Iran could as much as quadruple

“And really stable, good relationships with Germany will only be able to develop if this is accepted in Iranian politics. I will keep making that clear during my trip to Iran,” Gabriel said in comments due to be published today.

He said while the nuclear deal was a first step towards normalising relations with Iran, further steps needed to follow in terms of Iran’s role in conflicts in the region and especially its relationship with Israel.

“Germany can and wants to offer itself as a mediator for this,” he was quoted as saying in an advance extract of the interview.

German industry groups have said exports from Europe’s largest economy to Iran could as much as quadruple in the next few years due to the nuclear deal and companies like Volkswagen and Siemens as well as thousands of smaller family-owned firms are eager to claw back their dominant role in Iran.

Germany was once Iran’s leading supplier from outside the region but in 2007 it lost that position to China, which now sends 15 to 20 times as many goods as Germany does. Eric Schweitzer, head of Germany’s DIHK chambers of trade and commerce, said Gabriel’s trip was “a very good sign” for business and while German-Iranian trade would not immediately soar, it could more than double to a value of €6 billion within two years.

In the medium term it could even jump to €10 billion, Schweitzer said.

Meanwhile, as the US Congress received the Iran nuclear agreement yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged lawmakers to hold out for a better deal and said there was no way to compensate Israel if the agreement goes through.

'Don't make this bad deal. Hold out for better deal,' Netanyahu said on ABC's This Week as he continued a string of US media interviews denouncing the deal reached on Tuesday between Iran and six major powers.

The State Department sent the agreement and supporting documentation to Congress for review on Sunday and said the first day of the 60-day review process will begin on Monday.

Lawmakers have 60 days to review the agreement and decide how to respond. During that period, plus 22 more days in which Obama could veto a resolution and Congress could try to override it, Obama cannot waive the congressional sanctions on Iran.

The Israeli Prime Minister believes that the nuclear agreement reached in Vienna to curb Iran's nuclear programme does not prevent but only puts off Iran from becoming a nuclear armed nation, and that relaxing the strict sanctions regime gives it billions of dollars to do so.

Netanyahu says the deal endangers his country, the region andthe world and there was no way Israel could feel safe if it takes effect.

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