A former senior German diplomat who was due to head a body designed to facilitate European trade with Iran has pulled out of the job amid reports he defended Tehran’s ballistic missile program and gave a pair of interviews to a journalist known for making anti-Semitic statements.
Germany’s foreign ministry confirmed a report Thursday by daily Bild that Bernd Erbel had informed officials “that he won’t be available for personal reasons” to head the organization, called INSTEX.
INSTEX was created by Germany, France and Britain to coordinate import and export payments so European companies can do business with Iran despite US pressure, and thereby convince Tehran to stick to the 2015 deal that limits its nuclear efforts after the US withdrew from the accord last year.
Bild reported that Erbel, a former ambassador to Tehran, was interviewed twice this year by Ken Jebsen, who was fired from public radio in 2011 for saying Sigmund Freud’s nephew “invented the Holocaust as PR.” Jebsen has also claimed the Anti-Defamation League and “Holocaust industry” have inflated the number of people murdered by the Nazis.
In the interviews on Jebsen’s YouTube channel, Erbel issued harsh criticism of Israel, saying “the Palestinians are the victims of our victims” and “there would be no Palestine problem if the Jewish state was founded in East Prussia,” according to an English translation of his remarks by one of the authors of the Bild report.
“Israel is more than ever a foreign body in the region,” he said.
Erbel also defended Iran as peaceful, arguing it had not started a war in over 200 years, and said its missile program is legal.
His decision not to take the job comes as the European signatories to the 2015 accord have been scrambling to preserve it, while Iran, feeling the bite of renewed US sanctions, has been reducing its commitments to it.
In June, Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, said that for the INSTEX system to be useful, “Europeans need to buy oil from Iran, or to consider credit lines for this mechanism.”
INSTEX was conceived in January but has taken months to activate.
Amid increasing tensions over the nuclear deal, Germany has ruled out participating in a proposed US-led mission to protect maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf area.
The US has asked allies to contribute to a mission to secure maritime traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, a critical oil shipping corridor, in the wake of increased Iranian aggression in the area.