Friday, 16 February, 2018

German minister heads to Iran, business ties still limited

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel attends a press conference after the Franco-German Financial Council meeting in Berlin, Germany, September 23, 2016.    REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel heads to Iran next week with a planeful of industry executives keen to rebuild trade ties, but remaining U.S. sanctions and political concerns are holding back a hoped-for business boom.

Gabriel says a German-Iranian business commission will meet for the first time in 15 years, and forecasts concrete business deals will be announced, but also warned Tehran on Friday that to normalize ties it must accept Israel’s right to exist, and stop what he called Iran’s decisive role in the Syrian war.

Tehran said there could be no precondition for Iran-Germany relations and that it rejected the interference of any third party in its state affairs.

Gabriel is making his second visit to Tehran since the Islamic Republic reached a deal with world powers in July last year to lift economic sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, in return for curbs on its nuclear activities.

Industrial giant Siemens AG and automaker Daimler will be among the first German firms to benefit from opportunities in Iran, but they are proceeding carefully and only after legal reviews.

Exports to Iran jumped 15 percent in the first half of the year to 1.13 billion euros and could reach 4 billion euros in the full year, said Michael Tockuss, head of the Hamburg-based German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce.

He cited signs of movement in the German banking sector, which has been reluctant to underwrite business deals for fear of running afoul of remaining U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran for what Washington says is Tehran’s money laundering, support for terrorism and human rights abuses.

“Economic cooperation won’t perform miracles but it can open up countries and stimulate societal change,” Gabriel, who leads the Social Democrats, junior partner in the ruling center-right coalition, told the online site weekly magazine Der Spiegel.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a fellow Social Democrat, in February invited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to visit Germany.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, anxious about managing ties with two fierce Iran foes, Saudi Arabia and Israel, oppose a state visit now.



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