New York Times: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office on Monday addressed criticism of her foreign minister’s decision to meet the Iranian president over the weekend, saying that it was the price to pay for the release of two German journalists and that it did not change Germany’s criticisms of the Iranian government.
The New York Times
By JUDY DEMPSEY
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office on Monday addressed criticism of her foreign minister’s decision to meet the Iranian president over the weekend, saying that it was the price to pay for the release of two German journalists and that it did not change Germany’s criticisms of the Iranian government.
“In that kind of a situation it is always a question of weighing the pros and cons,” said Steffen Seibert, the chancellor’s spokesman. “We are still absolutely clear about the fact that the situation in Iran concerning human rights and political freedoms is unacceptably bad.”
Iran has faced sanctions and political isolation by the United States and European nations because of its nuclear program and its crackdown on political opponents.
The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, traveled to Tehran on Saturday to bring home two journalists for the newspaper Bild am Sonntag who were released after being arrested in October, when they were trying to interview family members of a woman who had been sentenced to death by stoning on adultery charges.
German Foreign Ministry officials said that after weeks of negotiations, the Iranians reached out last week to discuss the release of the pair, the reporter Marcus Hellwig and the photographer Jens Koch. A condition of their release was that Mr. Westerwelle meet with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The ministry said the discussion was limited during the hourlong meeting and that Mr. Westerwelle frequently raised the question of human rights in Iran.
“The minister’s trip had nothing but a humanitarian purpose,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We did what was necessary to resolve the case of our two citizens and get them home to Germany after four months.”
Mrs. Merkel had been informed about the trip by Mr. Westerwelle, but had not known about the meeting with Mr. Ahmadinejad beforehand, officials said. Her spokesman nevertheless emphasized that Mrs. Merkel was pleased with the results of the trip.
On Sunday, an Iranian Foreign Ministry official, Hassan Qashqavi, said Mr. Westerwelle’s visit “proved the failure of E.U. policy on Iran.” Under that policy, European Union foreign ministers are advised not to visit Iran except for very limited reasons. “The current visit puts an end to such a decision,” Mr. Qashqavi said.
Iranian exile groups in Europe condemned the visit, saying Germany was bowing to the Tehran government at a time when security forces were cracking down on pro-democracy demonstrators.
“This trip is nothing but pinning hope on the bankrupt and utterly failed policy of appeasement,” the National Council of Resistance of Iran said in a statement on Monday. It said Mr. Westerwelle’s visit occurred “only a few days after the bloody crackdown on Iranian protesters,” adding, “It would only embolden the regime to further suppress Iranian people.”