German–Iranian relations refer to bilateral relations between Germany and Iran. While official diplomatic relations between Iran and post-WW2 Germany began in 1952 when Iran opened its first diplomatic mission office in Bonn, the two countries have enjoyed diplomatic relations since the 19th century.
History of relations
The Qajar era
Unofficial relations between the German Reich and Iran date to the early 19th century. Goethe's dedication of his West-östlicher Divan (West-Eastern Divan) to Hafez in 1819 is an illustration of how far back such cultural ties went.
During the Qajar era, with the growing unpopularity of world powers in Persia such as Russia and Great Britain, especially after the treaties of Turkmenchay and Gulistan, and the revolt of Grand Ayatollah Mirza Hassan Shirazi in the Tobacco movement of Persia, many Iranian intellectuals began searching for a "third force" that could be relied upon as a potential ally: Germany, which had largely remained out of The Great Game. When Iran's first modern university was first established, Amir Kabir preferred the hiring of Austrian and German professors for Darolfonoon. Even Nasereddin Shah himself supported the idea of hiring such to serve as Darolfonoon's faculty, despite political pressures towards the contrary. In this regard, it is even written that Amir Kabir always showed interest in discussing the structural system of Germany's government and society as a model for modernizing his country.
During the Constitutionalist movement of Guilan, German soldiers were actively involved in training the popular army of Mirza Kuchak Khan. Mirza's field commander was a German officer by the name Major Von Pashen who had joined the Jangal movement after being released from a British prison in Rasht: he was Mirza's closest ally. Another famous German agent in Persia (especially during World War I) was Wilhelm Wassmuss, nicknamed the "German Lawrence".
The first Pahlavi era and Nazi Germany
The shelling of Iran's parliament by the Russians, and the signing of the 1919 Treaty, firmly planted the roots of suspicion against Britain and Russia. This was while many people were aware of Wilhelm II's speech in Damascus in 1898 calling on all Muslims to rely on him as a true friend. By the early 1930s, Reza Shah or the elder Reza Pahlavi's economic ties with Nazi Germany began worrying the Allied states. Germany's modern state and economy highly impressed the Shah, and there were hundreds of Germans involved in every aspect of the state, from setting up factories to building roads, railroads and bridges.
Reza Shah went on to ask the international community to use the native name of "Iran" in 1935 to address to his country. Although the country has been known as Iran to the native people themselves for many centuries, Westerners came to know the nation as Persia through ancient Greek accounts. The goal was to distract attention from the traditional Western designation “Persia” (a term Greek in origin). “Persian” was the historical name of one of the ethnic groups in Iran. With the reforms Reza Shah was implementing, the adoption of a new name for the country was seen as restoring Iran’s historical legacy. While Persia had fallen victim to imperialism, Iran would be free from foreign control.
The Iranian government did not support the antisemitism of Nazis. Iran argued that Iranians including its Jewish population, which was the largest in the Middle East, were immune to the racial Nuremberg Laws on the grounds that they were of Aryan descent . These efforts, which were led by junior Iranian diplomat, Abdol-Hossein Sardari, who was stationed in Paris in the time of the Nazi occupation . His efforts led the Nazis to issue a directive that Iranian Jews should be exempt from wearing the yellow-star of David. It is said that Sardari gave out between 500 and 1,000 Iranian passports, without the consent of his superiors. His actions are believed to have saved 2,000 to 3,000 Jewish lives, as passports were issued for entire families.
In 1939, Nazi Germany provided Iran with what they called a Germany Scientific Library. The library contained over 7500 books selected "to convince Iranian readers ... of the kinship between the National Socialist Reich and the Aryan culture of Iran". In various pro-Nazi publications, lectures, speeches, and ceremonies, parallels were drawn between the Shah of Iran and Hitler, and praise the charisma and virtue of the Führerprinzip.
For many decades, Iran and the German Empire had cultivated ties, partly as a counter to the imperial ambitions of Britain and the Russian Empire, and later, the Soviet Union. Trading with Germany appealed to Iran because the Germans did not have a history of imperialism in the region, unlike the British and Russians.
From 1939 to 1941 Iran's top foreign trade partner (nearly 50% of its total trade) was Germany, which helped Iran open modern sea and air communications with the rest of the world.
Demands from the Allies for the expulsion of German residents in Iran (mostly workers and diplomats) were refused by the Shah. A British embassy report in 1940, estimated that there were almost 1,000 German nationals in Iran. According to Iran's Ettelaat newspaper, there were actually 690 German nationals in Iran (out of a total of 4,630 foreigners, including 2,590 British). Jean Beaumont estimates that "probably no more than 3,000" Germans actually lived in Iran, but they were believed to have a disproportionate influence because of their employment in strategic government industries and Iran's transport and communications network".:215–216
However, the Iranians also began to reduce their trade with the Germans under Allied demands. Reza Shah sought to remain neutral and anger neither side, which was becoming increasingly difficult with the British/Soviet demands on Iran. British forces were already present in sizeable numbers in Iraq as a result of the Anglo-Iraqi War earlier in 1941. Thus, British troops were stationed on the western border of Iran prior to the invasion.
In 1941, the Allies forced Reza Shah to abdicate the throne to his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. His followers who refused British occupation in the Iranian government such as Fazlollah Zahedi  and Mohammad Hosein Airom shared similar fates. The British believed that Zahedi was planning a general uprising in cooperation with German forces. He was arrested, where he was found with German weapons and correspondence from a German agent. He was flown out of the country and interned in Palestine.
The second Pahlavi era
Post-World War II Iran came under the inescapable diplomatic shadow of the United States, lessening chances of further deepening relations between Tehran and Bonn. In commercial links, West Germany however remained well ahead of other European countries, even the United States, until 1974.
In 1972, following the visit to Tehran of the West German chancellor Willy Brandt, Iran and West Germany signed an economic agreement which provided for Iranian exports of oil and natural gas to Germany, with West German exports to and investments in Iran in return. However, given its huge surplus in foreign trade in 1974-5, the Iranian government bought 25% of the shares of Krupp Hüttenwerke (German for smelting plants), the steel subsidiary of the German conglomerate Krupp, in September 1974. While this provided the much needed cash injection to Krupp, it gave Iran access to German expertise to expand its steel industry. Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant was also designed and partially built by the German Kraftwerk Union of Siemens, an agreement which was inked during the same years.
In 1975 West Germany became the 2nd most important supplier of non-military goods to Iran. Valued at $404 million, West German imports amounted to nearly one fifth of total Iranian imports.
As the European country with the largest Iranian expatriate community, the Shah's visits to West Germany became the focus of much protest in the 1970s. As repression in Iran became more intense, these demonstrations became more vigorous. Many of Iran's intellectual ayatollahs, such as Ayatollah Beheshti, in fact spent some years in cities like Hamburg.
After 1979 Revolution
Although West Germany was a key technology supplier to Saddam Hussein during the Iran–Iraq War, especially to Saddam's chemical weapons program, Germany also kept open relations with Iran in some industrial and civilian technological sectors.
After the war, Germany increasingly became a primary trading partner of Iran, with German goods worth about 3.6 billion euros being imported into Iran in 2004.
The 1992 Mykonos restaurant assassinations and Mykonos Trial in Berlin severely soured relations. On September 17, 1992, Iranian-Kurdish insurgent leaders Sadegh Sharafkandi, Fattah Abdoli, Homayoun Ardalan and their translator Nouri Dehkordi were assassinated at the Mykonos Greek restaurant in Berlin, Germany. In the Mykonos trial, the courts found Kazem Darabi, an Iranian national who worked as a grocer in Berlin, and Lebanese Abbas Rhayel, guilty of murder and sentenced them to life in prison. Two other Lebanese, Youssef Amin and Mohamed Atris, were convicted of being accessories to murder. In its 10 April 1997 ruling, the court issued an international arrest warrant for Iranian intelligence minister Hojjat al-Islam Ali Fallahian after declaring that the assassination had been ordered by him with knowledge of supreme leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and president Ayatollah Rafsanjani.
In 1999, a German, Helmut Hofer, was arrested in Tehran after having an affair with an Iranian woman. This caused some tremors in the domestic political landscape as well as diplomatic relations of Tehran-Berlin. This was followed in 2005 when a German angler who was on vacation in the United Arab Emirates was arrested in the Persian Gulf and convicted to a prison sentence of 18 months. In 2009 a German lawyer, Andreas Moser, was arrested during the protests against the 2009 elections; he was released after one week. Also in 2005, hardline Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stirred relations with comments directed against the Jewish Holocaust. However, Tehran's tensions with Germany and most of Europe have eased considerably in recent years after the election of the more moderate Hassan Rouhani as President in 2013.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said February 4, 2006 on the occasion of the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy that the world must act now to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, evoking her nation's own history as a cautionary tale of what can happen when threats to peace remain unchecked.
- "We want, we must prevent Iran from developing its nuclear program further," Mrs. Merkel told the audience of top security officials and policy makers during a speech at the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy.
Merkel, whose speech came on the same day that the International Atomic Energy Agency voted to report Iran's case to the United Nations Security Council, said Germany's own experiences during the 1930s should be a warning over how to deal with Iran.
- "Now we see that there were times when we could have acted differently," she said. "For that reason Germany is obliged to make clear what is permissible and what isn't."
Merkel said Iran had "blatantly crossed the red line"– and not only with regard to respecting its international obligations as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. She said it was also "unacceptable" for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to question the extent of the Holocaust and to say that the Israel should "disappear from the pages of time," in a reference to the dismantling of the state of Israel.
- "A president that questions Israel's right to exist, a president that denies the Holocaust, cannot expect to receive any tolerance from Germany," Merkel said to applause. "We have learned our history."
In February 2006, relations further soured after a German paper printed a cartoon depicting Iran's national football team strapped with bombs to their jerseys. Iran demanded an apology from Germany for the "immoral act". Student demonstrations followed in protest to the cartoons, chanting "Merkel=Hitler".
Recently in an attempt to bring the two nations closer, Germany has issued "Symphonic Diplomacy", similar to the Ping Pong Diplomacy of the United States with China, by sending a German Orchestra to perform in Tehran. This marks the first time these works have been played since Western Music was banned by Iran's Government.
In July 2018, Iran’s foreign ministry summoned envoys from Germany, France and Belgium in protest at the arrest of an Iranian diplomat in Germany in connection with the alleged plan to bomb the annual National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) rally on the outskirts of Paris.
- German government has decided to cut off public funding of a religious center, the Islamic Community of Shi'ite Communities of Germany, in the city of Hamburg which is said is close to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The Free Democratic Party criticized the government why this did not occur sooner.
Around 50 German firms have their own branch offices in Iran and more than 12,000 firms have their own trade representatives in Iran. Several renowned German companies are involved in major Iranian infrastructure projects, especially in the petrochemical sector, like Linde, BASF, Lurgi, Krupp, Siemens, ZF Friedrichshafen, Mercedes, Volkswagen and MAN (2008).
In 2005 Germany had the largest share of Iran's export market with $5.67 billion (14.4%). In 2008, German exports to Iran increased 8.9 percent and comprised 84.7 percent of the total German-Iranian trade volume. The overall bilateral trade volume until the end of September 2008 stood at 3.23 billion euros, compared to 2.98 billion euros the previous year. The value of trade between Tehran and Berlin has increased from around 4.3 billion euro in 2009 to nearly 4.7 billion euro in 2010. According to German sources, around 80 percent of machinery and equipment in Iran is of German origin.
The German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) has estimated that economic sanctions against Iran may cost more than 10,000 German jobs and have a negative impact on the economic growth of Germany. Sanctions would especially hurt medium-sized German companies, which depend heavily on trade with Iran. There has been a shift in German business ties with Iran from long-term business to short-term and from large to mid-sized companies which have less business interests in the US and thus are less prone to American political pressure. Around 100 German companies have branches in Iran and more than 1,000 businesses work through sales agents, according to the German-Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
After the official agreement between Iran and the West in the Iran nuclear deal, Germany's economic relations with Iran has been increasing once more. German exports to Iran grew more than 27% from 2015 to 2016.
According to a 2012 BBC World Service poll, only 8% of Germans view Iran's influence positively, with 74% expressing a negative view. According to a 2012 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, 6% of Germans viewed Iran favorably, compared to 91% which viewed it unfavorably; 96% of Germans oppose Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons and 80% approve of "tougher sanctions" on Iran, while 50% of Germans support use of military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, Iran is considered by Germans as the second greatest threat to peace in the World (16%), after United States only (17%).
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Relations of Germany and Iran.|
- Germany I: German-Persian diplomatic relations at Encyclopædia Iranica, by Oliver Bast
- Germany V: German travelers and explorers in Persia at Encyclopædia Iranica, by Oliver Bast
- Iranian.com article
- Another informational link
- A chance to improve Germany-Iran relations Tehran Times article (2010)