Germany Reacts to Iran’s Push
Some Western observers are publicly airing their views that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vociferous outbursts about Israel and about his nation’s nuclear capability are the results of political naiveté. But at least one nation, Germany, is taking him seriously.
According to German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, the German government recently lectured Iran’s top diplomat in Berlin on the issue, condemning his president’s remarks. A few days earlier, German Vice Chancellor Franz Müntefering implied that Germany wouldn’t take the president’s comments lying down. “What is said will one day be wanted and also done,” he said, referring to Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel to be wiped off the map or moved to Europe. Müntefering called for diplomatic ties with Iran to be reviewed.
In particular, what really stung the German government was just how specific Ahmadinejad was in offering a future location for the Jewish state, “suggesting that if the Europeans really felt that bad for the Jews, that Israel should be picked up and moved to Europe—specifically to Germany and Austria.” As Stratfor mused, “That went over in Germany about as well as a lead zeppelin” (December 13).
All this is causing ructions in German foreign policy circles. Under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the Germans pursued a policy of engagement with Iran. It is well known that Germany has provided technical expertise for Iran’s industrial capacity, a capacity that is now intent on developing nuclear technology. This could prove to be Germany’s nemesis.
With an unsteady coalition government to control, new German Chancellor Angela Merkel has sought to render a “steady as you go” approach to foreign policy, not wishing to rock the boat unduly with any foreign nation and be caught napping without majority support in this vital policy area in the tenuous early days of coalition government. However, the Iranian president has forced the issue with his statements—statements that could easily be interpreted as deliberately intended to stimulate a reaction from Germany!
He did not have to wait long for that reaction. Stratfor described Vice Chancellor Müntefering’s apparently livid response as “thundering … that Germany is pulling out the stops in seeking ‘political consequences’ for Iran in the European Union and at the United Nations” (ibid.).
What is particularly interesting about this situation is that not only has it forced an early declaration on foreign policy by the German coalition government, it has driven the odd mixture of political parties that comprise it toward unprecedented unity. As Stratfor observed: “For Merkel, this little foreign policy crisis will be liberating. With the entire country and all of its five major parties suddenly unified on a topic, Merkel will be able to stake out a major foreign policy shift with broad support. Combine that with a rapidly dissolving Schröder legacy, and the stage is set for a top-to-bottom German about-face. The only question remaining, of course, is, which combinations of directions will a newly empowered Merkel turn her country?” (ibid.).
That is a worrying question. Which way will Merkel jump? She has an early opportunity to cement coalition unity on the most crucial of political portfolios: foreign policy. The direction she takes could prove to be a make-or-break move for the future of Germany’s grand coalition government.