Also during that trip, Steinmeier reiterated the extent of Germany’s interest in expanding trade with the Islamic Republic. Spokespersons for the EU economic powerhouse indicate that it plans to double trade with Iran in the first couple of years of the post-sanctions era, and then to double the figure again over the long term.
Xinhua News Agency reported upon Steinmeier’s latest comments to this effect on Wednesday, adding that Rouhani had encouraged Germany to seize this historical moment in order to develop bilateral ties in multiple areas.
But critics of such Western policies feel that recent visits from Rouhani and other members of his administration are indicative of willingness to look the other way on non-economic issues such as Iran’s ongoing human rights abuses and its support of terrorist groups in the broader Middle East.
Rouhani’s visits to Italy and France were met by protests from thousands of human rights activists and Iranian exiles who sought to bring attention to these very issues. And this week there has been some outcry directed against Steinmeier’s visit to Tehran and his narrow focus upon trade negotiations.
The European organization Stop the Bomb wrote an open letter on this subject, describing Holocaust denial as “an expression of the centrality of anti-Semitism to the Iranian regime’s ideology.” Opponents of that ideology have naturally questioned the narrative of expanded cultural relations between Iran and the European Union in the wake of the announcement of the cartoon contest.
During Rouhani’s visit last week, Italian officials made the decision to remove wine from the menus of state meals and to cover up nude statues at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Some commentators described this decision as an “incomprehensible” effort to subordinate the host’s culture to the culture of the visitor. And some such criticisms highlighted the lack of similar behavior on the part of the Iranian regime, which, apart from hosting the Holocaust denial contest, is notorious for persecution of its own religious and ethnic minorities.
In the wake of both this and the German invitation to Rouhani, criticisms of European openness to the Islamic Republic have now expanded to include the United Kingdom, as well. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was scheduled to address the UK parliament on Thursday regarding the situation in Syria.
This led to some British political figures decrying the decision in the media, with Lord Maginnis of Drumglass using a Business Insider editorial to describe it as “all but unfathomable” that the UK was contributing to a trend of welcoming Iran back into the world community in the midst of unchanged Iranian behavior at home and in the broader Middle East.