The recent visit of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to Iran is important both to us and to the European country’s regional policy. A senior official with the German foreign ministry said, “We have rights and interests as much as others do. I think it is the time for Berlin to fulfill its international duties more responsibly. We have shouldered the burden and fulfilled our responsibilities by doing what we could do for Europe within the past fifty years.”
According to a report by the Persian newspaper Ghanoon translated by the Iran Front Page (IFP), the German official did not provide further details on what he described as international commitments and the heavy burden of Europe. However, the increase in Berlin’s diplomatic efforts at the international level, particularly in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, reveals to a great extent the secret willingness of German officials to play the role they believe their country has so far failed or avoided to play.
This German official, who was afraid of reactions to his remarks and spoke on condition of anonymity, added, “Our foreign and defense policy is not supposed to be limited to Europe forever. In the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and the Arab countries of Africa, there is no bad impression of Germany unlike our allies.”
It is not clear how much the German official’s remarks can be reflective of the views of German authorities. During the past 60 years at least, whether based on the call of its NATO allies or for fear of USSR’s reaction, Germany’s foreign policy (that of the West Germany during the Cold War and the current united Germany) has been mainly focused on economic and technological rather than military diplomacy. It was an efficient and straightforward policy that first turned to a political habit, and then provided Germany with the opportunity to reconstruct its economic and technical infrastructures after the World War II.
As regards the gradual change in Germany’s strategic foreign policy, one can now witness numerous signals indicating that Berlin is getting out of its nearly 60-year cocoon. However, as far as the special policies adopted by Berlin in the Arab Middle East and Persian Gulf are concerned (a completely-classic but forgotten view), the acceleration of Germany’s diplomacy and attempts to play a totally active role in regional political and security developments is no longer an issue to be concealed or denied, or that allies like France and Britain would hinder it through their relative dissatisfaction; especially now that the US seems willing to welcome Berlin’s new role, which will practically lead to further balance of strategic power in the crisis-hit Middle East and now in Persian Gulf.
The surprising capability German diplomats, Foreign Minister Steinmeier in particular, showed during the talks on Iran’s nuclear energy program was well recognized by political observers. Western diplomatic sources as well as the Iranian foreign ministry have noted that back in June and July 2015, in the course of the international community’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear energy program, Steinmeier played a very constructive role in Vienna talks, which finally led Iran and the Group 5+1 (Russia, China, the US, Britain, France, and Germany) to a common point after several months. At least this could lead Tehran and Washington as the two main sides of negotiations to a common and defendable point through diplomatic goodwill.
The German Foreign Minister arrived in Tehran on February 2 for the second time in less than four months in a bid to pursue his country’s foreign policy based on “acceleration of presence in the region, enhancement of power in Berlin, and extension of influence in Europe”, an approach he considers himself as its architect.
Steinmeier was accompanied by a high-ranking delegation of senior economic and cultural representatives during his Tehran visit. However, given his recent stances after the escalation of tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the majority of political and diplomatic sources in Tehran and Berlin believe that, aside from economic cooperation, his trip is mainly aimed at political and security objectives regarding regional issues, Syrian crisis in particular, whose repercussions have deeply influenced Germany. Moreover, it is said that Steinmeier will head for Riyadh after leaving Tehran.
After the traditional tensions between Tehran and Riyadh escalated in early January, Steinmeier described the situation as very deep, and initiated efforts to control the tension and mediate between the two sides. Saudi officials, unlike Iranians, did not welcome Germany’s attempt. Nevertheless, the sensitive conditions in the Middle East, especially the worrying situation in Syria and the conflicts between Iran and Saudi Arabia – which might affect the Syrian crisis and the ongoing Geneva talks – convinced Berlin to follow up on its Middle East diplomacy, especially given the positive view and insistence of the US on the issue.
We can be hopeful about the achievements of Steinmeier’s regional visit. It was said that the German foreign minister “will face new positions and remarks in Tehran”. If it is the case, the story would go beyond Steinmeier’s success on Iran-Saudi ties. Germany would prove to be a more reliable path for Iran in its general diplomacy on Western countries, especially on both sides of the Atlantic.