Sunday Times: Pressure is growing on Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to bar Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, if he tries to attend the World Cup. The Sunday Times
Allan Hall, Berlin, and Tom Walker
PRESSURE is growing on Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to bar Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, if he tries to attend the World Cup.
Ahmadinejad has referred to Israel as a tumour and said that it should be wiped from the map. His presence in Germany, where Holocaust denial is illegal and carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, is potentially embarrassing. But he is a football fan and is thought to be anxious to see Irans first game against Mexico in Nuremberg on June 11.
There is little in theory that Merkel can do to stop Ahmadinejad from coming as he is a head of state with diplomatic immunity. But Germanys politicians hope the issue can be dealt with quietly by European foreign ministers. One newspaper, the Rheinische Post, said there had been clear signals that the so-called EU3 of Britain, France and Germany, which have been involved in negotiations over Irans nuclear programme, will ask the European Union to impose a travel ban on Irans political elite.
That would be an elegant solution for our problem, because we could then deny Ahmadinejad entry, a chancellery official told the paper.
In the Bundestag, Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior conservative and Merkel ally, said the government must make it clear through diplomatic channels that Ahmadinejad should not come.
Politicians also hope that Fifa, the World Cup organiser, can be persuaded to intervene. Fifa should declare the Iranian president persona non grata for the duration of the tournament, said a spokesman for the Christian Democrats.
However, an official who worked on previous travel bans, including those imposed on Yugoslav leaders in the early 1990s, said that arranging them took six months. Dont expect anything overnight, he said.