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An End to ‘Critical Dialogue’ with Iran?



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Berlin — Europe in general and Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in particular have traditionally pursued a dual strategy of “critical dialogue” and “change through trade” in their efforts to influence the Iranian regime. The ongoing German hostage crisis is yet another example of what a flop this cognitive-behavioral therapy for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and company has been.

German journalists Marcus Hellwig and Jens Koch, who were arrested in mid-October for interviewing family members of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani — a woman sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery — have spent 86 days incarcerated in a prison located in the city of Tabriz.

This comes after Iran, perhaps sensing President Obama’s extended hand as sign of feebleness, created in July 2009 a second American hostage crisis (replicating the 1979 model), seizing three United States citizens, Sarah Shourd, Shane M. Bauer and Joshua F. Fattal, for simply hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan, situated near Iran’s border. (Shourd has since been released.) America’s reliance on Swiss diplomacy — their foreign ministry represents U.S. interests in Iran — has produced lackluster results. The Swiss are considered to be the most pro-Iranian European country, largely because of their massive economic interests in Iran.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle initially courted the Iranians with quiet diplomacy peppered with critical dialogue. His Iranian counterpart assured him that both reporters would be granted family visits during Christmas. The Iranians reneged. After another dose of critical dialogue, the family members along with Germany’s ambassador to Iran, Bernd Erbel, were granted access to the reporters based on “Islamic mercy.” When Erbel assumed his post in Tehran, he highlighted on the German embassy’s website that he was looking forward to “preserving the historical treasure of the German-Iranian friendship.”

Though the English-speaking media have named the journalists in their dispatches, the German foreign ministry and press are — bizarrely — refusing to attach names to the two hostages. Mina Ahadi, a prominent Iranian dissident living in Cologne, said on Monday that, for Germany, “It is time to end the cuddling up diplomacy” with Tehran’s rulers. Iran’s pariah regime has designated Ahadi and her international campaign to end stoning in the Islamic Republic one of the regime’s public enemies.

The German hostage crisis is a window into seven flawed years of EU nuclear diplomacy talks in which a bottomless pit’s worth of carrots were offered with a view toward changing Iranian jingoism. Germany’s flourishing trade relationship with Iran (German exports to Iran reached €3.4 billion this year) and a steady stream of German members of parliament travelling to Iran to meet Holocaust deniers, human-rights violators, and haters of women, reveal the bankruptcy of critical dialogue and change through trade. The end result has been the suppression of press freedoms and pro-democratic activity, nuclear weaponization, and, as we can see, hostage taking.

Chancellor Angela Merkel declared last year the end of multiculturalism (whatever that might mean) in Germany. “Critical dialogue” and “change through trade” are the natural outgrowth of a multiculturalism that tolerates violent Iranian intolerance. Germany now has an amazing opportunity to reorder its obsolete Iran strategy and declare an end to these failed ideas.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.



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