Contrary to Its Hard Line, EU Bends to Iran


Despite its criticism of Tehran’s handling of protesters, the EU shies away from a serious diplomatic conflict with Iran.  Both the Swedish EU Council Presidency and individual EU member states will participate in the inauguration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that, “given the circumstances surrounding the controversial reelection” of Ahmadinejad, she would refrain from sending a customary letter of congratulation.

Nevertheless, a German representative was present at the official confirmation of Ahmadinejad by Iranian Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday.  After close consultation with our EU partners, we sent a low-level diplomat, said a Federal Foreign Office spokesperson.  Sweden sent its ambassador in Tehran Magnus Wernstedt.  The ambassador will also make his appearance as a representative of the EU Council Presidency at Ahmadinejad’s swearing-in ceremony before the Iranian parliament on Wednesday.  Germany is still discussing its participation in the ceremony with other EU states.

The behavior of the EU stands in clear contradiction to the hard line that Brussels was still pursuing at the beginning of July.  At that time, it was decided that, for the time being, Iranian diplomats should not receive any visas for entry in the EU.  A formal ban was also considered.  The federal government of Germany and other EU states threatened Iran with consequences if the persecution of Iranian dissidents went further.  Hundreds of thousands of Iranians had accused their leadership of electoral fraud after the polls on the 12th of June.  Hundreds were arrested, and a number of people were killed in clashes with security forces.

The EU protested, taking actions against Tehran, and it also opposed the arrest of former Iranian employees of the British Embassy in Tehran.  The relations between London and Tehran particularly deteriorated as Tehran accused London of meddling in Iran’s internal affairs.  London withdrew its diplomats from Teheran.  However, the British charge d’affaires in Tehran, too, participated in the ceremony to confirm Ahmadinejad.  Yet clerics, members of the armed forces, and cabinet members still chanted at the ceremony: “Down with Britain!”

The EU fears that a hard line against Tehran could diminish the opportunities to exercise its diplomatic influence on the Iranian leadership.  First of all, because of the controversial Iranian nuclear program, the West does not want to break off the relations entirely.

Iranian critics of the government, however, took an unprecedented action and made their opposition to Ahmadinejad’s reelection clear.  Former president Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the influential Assembly of Experts, stayed away, despite the definite rules of the ceremony.  Four years ago, Khatami handed a letter from the Leader to the newly elected Ahmadinejad, playing his official role as Ahmadinejad’s predecessor as prescribed by the tradition.  On Monday, Khamenei had to perform this procedure himself.

The absence of some influential politicians illustrates the deep rift in the Iranian elite.  The Leader said yesterday that “some of the elite” had failed the “test” of the election.  That is how he regards the politicians absent from the ceremony.  Also, the losing presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi boycotted the ceremony.  Thousands of his followers reportedly protested in Tehran, against the presidential election.  Police tried to disperse the crowd.  On the weekend a controversial trial of one hundred prominent critics of the government had begun.

Ahmadinejad Inaugurated in Iran

Cf.   Meanwhile, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs finds himself torn between lobbies for and against the normalization of the US relations with Iran: “Gibbs: Ahmadinejad ‘Elected Leader’ of Iran” (Associated Press, 4 August 2009); “Gibbs Backs Off Statement on Iranian Election” (Associated Press, 5 August 2009).

The original article “Widerspruch zum harten Kurs: EU knickt gegenüber Iran ein” was published by Financial Times Deutschland on 4 August 2009.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at]