Dispute Among Friends

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas ended his first official visit to Washington yesterday, without reaching a compromise in the transatlantic dispute over policy on Iran. "We're pursuing two completely different paths," Maas declared following his talks with his counterpart Mike Pompeo and the National Security Advisor John Bolton. The EU remains unified in their policy approach, which is diametrically opposed to that of the Trump administration. Berlin's attempts to achieve an independent German-EU policy on Iran opposing Washington's is particularly applauded by Germany's strategists in the establishment's foreign policy sectors. Recommendations of submission to the Trump administration's threats to use force against Teheran, so as not to jeopardize German companies' highly profitable business relations with the US, are coming from business circles. Meanwhile, foreign policy experts recommend developing the euro into an alternative global reserve currency. This could reduce the USA's potential to apply pressure on Germany's economy.

The Next Regime Change

Just before German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrived for talks in Washington, Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo gave a keynote address on the Trump administration's new Iran strategy at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Pompeo presented a list of twelve demands to Teheran. No one seriously expects their fulfillment, because this would amount to an unconditional surrender by the Iranian government. According to the demands, Iran must not only completely abandon uranium enrichment, but also end all support to its allied organizations and militia throughout the Middle East - including to those groups whose contribution to the military victory over the IS had been welcomed by the United States. Teheran must also halt its alleged threats against international shipping in the Persian Gulf and alleged cyber attacks. To enforce US demands, Pompeo announced "the strongest sanctions in history."[1] According to observers, his speech is a prelude to an open renewed "regime change" offensive against Iran. The US foreign minister's claim Iranian elite units are currently carrying out "assassination operations in the heart of Europe" has widely been met with raised eyebrows. Even exiled Iranian opponents, who spent many years in Teheran's prisons, consider Pompeo's allegation fictitious.[2] This allegation is obviously aimed at increasing pressure on the EU to subordinate itself to Washington's Iran policy.

Independent Middle-East Policy

Berlin is refusing to submit - for reasons of power politics. In its power struggle with Moscow, the German government was ready to accept - unproven - allegations to justify diplomatic aggression (in the Skripal case [3]) and military aggressions violating international law (in the recent air raids on Syria [4]). However, up to now, it has refused to follow US power policy in relationship to Iran, as it had refused open participation in the 2003 war on Iraq. Whereas, it had been closely aligned with the United States in the power struggle against Russia and the looming conflict with China, the German government is now seeking to create a basis for an independent global Middle East policy, a region from which Washington avowedly wants to withdraw. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[5]) Just before leaving for Washington, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced that he would stand his ground. "We are ready to talk, to negotiate, but if necessary to fight for our positions."[6] This must be allowed "among friends." Following yesterday's meeting with his counterpart Mike Pompeo and US National Security Advisor John Bolton, the foreign minister declared, they "we're pursuing two completely different paths" and "I think we're still far away from a compromise."[7]

"Don't Shy away from the Conflict"

Particularly the strategists in the Berlin establishment's foreign policy sectors are supportive of their government's stubborn attempts to develop an independent policy toward Iran. Just recently Berlin's chancellery-financed German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) maintained that it is necessary "for the EU to take a consolidated position and not shy away from the conflict,"[8] in the dispute over the Iran nuclear deal. SWP-Director Volker Perthes, one of Germany's most influential Middle East experts, has now taken it a step further. "Any suggestion" that the nuclear deal should be renegotiated, as Washington demands, "is absurd," Perthes notes. Brussels therefore should certainly not wait for the United States. "Easier to imagine" - under the condition that the nuclear deal is maintained - is a new round of talks that could eventually lead to "a comprehensive security agreement" with Iran. Such an agreement must, to a certain degree, accept Iranian interests in the region but should also reign in Teheran's foreign policy ambitions. It could build on the nuclear deal or serve as a comprehensive follow-up agreement by 2025 when the nuclear agreement expires. Perthes proposes that Germany, France and the UK begin independent negotiations on such an agreement and, similar to their approach resulting in the current agreement, lead the diplomatic push "until the US is ready to join."[9] This will "certainly only be after Trump's presidency," but the limitations on Iran's nuclear program will not have expired before that.

"Recognize the Circumstances"

Whereas foreign policy strategists are pleading for not shying away from the conflict with Washington, warnings are being raised, particularly from within business circles, about the potentially costly consequences. "Trump's threat to penalize European companies should they undermine US sanctions is blackmail," according to an influential business commentator.[10] "Dealings with Iran," however, are "minute" in comparison to German companies' business with the US. "American sales are vital" for example for Siemens and should in no way be compromised in favor of deals with Iran. "Those who believed that the EU could put enough weights on the scales to pursue a global policy on a par with the United States have been proven wrong by the unilateral breach of the Iran nuclear deal." Inevitable "Realpolitik" will need "recognition of the circumstances." Regarding the option of close coordination with China on Iran, the Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Committee of German Business (APA), Hubert Lienhard, made a similar comment. "Basically I do not believe that Germany and the EU should take joint measures - also with China - in opposition to the USA." Because "in the long run," such an approach would "simply not be smart" because of the high profits German companies are reaping from their US businesses."[11]

The German Euro's Weakness

In Berlin's bid for an independent global policy - given Germany's dependence not only on its US business relations, but also on the US dollar, the global reserve currency - foreign policy experts are calling for currency reinforcement of German power ambitions. The EU is "an economic giant" explains the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). But it has "one phenomenal weakness:" in monetary terms, it is a non-entity. The USA can impose its sanctions against Iran on German companies because "88 percent of global financial transactions" are made in dollars.[12] Because almost all banks worldwide trade in dollars, hardly any will finance business with Iran against Washington's will. If the EU wants to escape US control over the global reserve currency, it must strengthen the crisis-ridden euro to begin to really rival the dollar. France has always tried to do this, but has always been thwarted due to Germany's insistence on price stability. The euro could be developed into an attractive alternative reserve currency, writes the ECFR, if the EU would at least use Eurobonds, a European deposit insurance scheme, and majority decision-making in the Eurogroup, to provide the Euro with "a stronger shared foundation." However, this is in fact blocked by what has constituted Berlin's crisis policy. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[13]) The world power to be, fears nothing more than the thought of having to cut its short-term profit maximization to stabilize euro countries facing a crisis. Germany's stubborn pursuit of undiminished maximum profits is standing in the way of its long-term ambitious global power interests.


[1] After the Deal: A New Iran Strategy. state.gov 21.05.2018.

[2] Julian Borger, Saeed Kamali Dehghan: Mike Pompeo claims Iran carrying out 'assassination operations' in Europe. theguardian. 22.05.2018.

[3] See also Auf dem Weg in den Weltkrieg and Willingness to Engage in a Power Struggle.

[4] See also Auf dem Weg in den Weltkrieg (II).

[5] See also Die Anti-Trump-Allianz and How to Become a World Power.

[6] Europas Sicht erklären: Maas in Washington. auswaertiges-amt.de 22.05.2018.

[7] No compromise in sight on Iran nuclear deal, Germany says. uk.reuters.com 23.05.2018.

[8] Johannes Thimm: Nach dem US-Austritt aus dem Iran-Abkommen: Die Stunde Europas. swp-berlin.org 09.05.2018. See also Germany's Priorities.

[9] Volker Perthes: Die Europäer müssen jetzt ohne die USA mit Iran verhandeln. swp-berlin.org 22.05.2018.

[10] Holger Steltzner: Realpolitik statt Handelskrieg. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 18.05.2018.

[11] Merkel sucht Verbündete für Iran- und WTO-Abkommen. manager-magazin.de 22.05.2018.

[12] Caroline de Gruyter: The omnipotent dollar: US sanctions and the euro problem. ecfr.eu 22.05.2018.

[13] See also Ein neuer Élysée-Vertrag.