Iran leaders snub German vice chancellor over call to recognize Israel
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Iran leaders snub German vice chancellor over call to recognize Israel

Foreign minister, parliament speaker cancel Tehran meetings with Sigmar Gabriel after he says full normalization will hinge on recognition of Jewish state

Iran's Economy Minister Ali Tayebnia (L) and German vice chancellor, Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel pose for a picture after signing agreements during a German-Iranian Joint Economic Commission (GWK) meeting in Tehran on October 3, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)
Iran's Economy Minister Ali Tayebnia (L) and German vice chancellor, Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel pose for a picture after signing agreements during a German-Iranian Joint Economic Commission (GWK) meeting in Tehran on October 3, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

Iran’s foreign minister and parliament speaker called off meetings with Germany’s vice chancellor over his demand that the Islamic Republic recognize Israel as a precondition for full normalization of ties between Berlin and Tehran, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported on Tuesday.

Sigmar Gabriel, who also serves as economy minister, arrived in Tehran on Sunday as part of Germany’s efforts to renew business ties with the Islamic Republic following the last year’s nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers that eased international sanctions in exchange for curbs to Tehran’s nuclear program.

Ahead of the visit, Gabriel told Der Spiegel that Germany could not move ahead with full normalization of ties until the Iranian regime accepted Israel’s right to exist.

According to the Fars News Agency, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani subsequently snubbed Gabriel, who was in the Islamic Republic for two days with some 120 business representatives and dozens of journalists. Meetings between the Iranian politicians and Gabriel were canceled, the report said.

Gabriel met with other senior Iranian officials during his two-day trip, including the economy minister.

German vice chancellor, Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel attends a German-Iranian Joint Economic Commission (GWK) meeting in Tehran on October 3, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)
German vice chancellor, Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel attends a German-Iranian Joint Economic Commission (GWK) meeting in Tehran on October 3, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

An Iranian government spokesperson was quoted by the report as saying that Gabriel told him his remarks regarding Israel were misconstrued.

“When Gabriel came to Iran, I asked him why he has said such a thing while he is one of the pioneering officials who came to Iran after the nuclear deal? He clearly said that they (the media) had distorted his comments. He said that he has come to Iran now without any precondition and that they respect Iran’s views,” said Mohammad Baqer Nobakht.

The spokesperson reiterated that Tehran will never recognize Israel, and said “no country can set a precondition for us. We live with our beliefs.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s judiciary chief on Tuesday said that given the power to do so, he would have banned Gabriel from visiting the country altogether over his remarks.

“The German economy minister has made incorrect and illogical comments and said that if Iran wants to open way for trade interactions, it should recognize Israel. Apparently, he is asleep and doesn’t know that Iran has tolerated abundant pressures for the sake of its beliefs for over 30 years to resist against such demands,” said Iran’s judiciary chief Sadeq Amoli Larijani, according to the Fars News Agency.

“Were I in the place of the government and the foreign minister, I would not allow this minister to visit Iran,” he added.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) holds a press conference with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on February 2, 2016, in Tehran.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) holds a press conference with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on February 2, 2016, in Tehran.

Iran last week rejected outright the demand that it recognize Israel as a precondition for full diplomatic ties.

“Ties between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Germany are based on mutual respect and interests, and no precondition would be acceptable in this regard,” Bahram Qasemi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said on Saturday, according to the official Iranian news outlet Press TV.

“The Islamic Republic considers defending the rights of the people of Palestine to be a fixed plank of its foreign policy and will never and under no circumstances forsake the Palestinian cause,” Qasemi said.

Gabriel was among the first Western leaders to lead a delegation to Tehran following the removal of key nuclear-related sanctions in January. Germany seeks to reclaim its former position as one of Iran’s major trading partners, but has long criticized the regime for its virulent anti-Israel stance, regime-backed Holocaust denial conferences, and frequent calls for Israel’s destruction.

Gabriel acknowledged on Monday that “there are differences between our countries.”

“There are many points that connect us, and some points that separate us. In foreign policy we have a different point of view, especially regarding the difficult conflict in Syria. We should talk about this with respect for each other,” he said.

He added that Germany supports Iran’s desire to join the World Trade Organization.

Trade between the two countries — which was 2.4 billion euros last year ($2.7 billion) — grew by 15 percent in the first half of 2016.

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