Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Iran Chancellor

Iran´s nuclear programme, and how best to defuse it, has been making headlines throughout the past few weeks. A softening-up of public opinion is going on, with Washington indicating that imminent action is on the cards, whilst European governments, including Britain´s, make the customary cautionary noises.

One aspect which has gone largely unremarked: the reactions of the Iranians themselves to Bush´s signals (see January 22nd post, Iran loves Bush). As the Student Committee for Democracy reports, the President´s Inauguration speech has been hugely impactful in Iran. It has given a new impetus to the movement for democracy.

Chancellor Schroeder now weighs in with a warning to the effect that war is never the answer. It all depends on the question, of course. Germany is Iran´s most important trading partner: exports since the year 2000 have doubled to 3 billion euros, according to the Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammertag, and 2004 saw a further increase of 30%. Big industrial interests are at stake, and Berlin underwrites German exports to Iran with taxpayer-funded securities to the tune of 100 million euros.

War - or the threat of war, to be strictly accurate about Bush´s position - is indeed an inappropriate answer - if your question is how to maximise short-term trade with Iran. The drawback of the "soft-power" alternative championed by Germany, France and Britian, however, is that if it is to have any chance of success, it must be backed by trade sanctions - which will disproportionately harm German exports. As a result, Schroeder will be doing his utmost to ensure that sanctions against Iran are seen as being all Washington´s doing, and not the logical outcome of the German government´s strategy. A difficult one to get away with, but if anyone can do it, Chancellor Schroeder can.

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