German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Tuesday wrapped up a two-day visit to Iran with a view to expand trade ties between the two regional giants after the lifting of international sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Leading a delegation of business representatives on his second visit to the country in 14 months, Gabriel had to balance talks about new business deals with voicing concern over Iran’s human rights record and regional politics.
The visit to Iran was a positive step on the road to expanding economic relations after years of sanctions, business representatives said.
“I would not give too much weight to it,” Eric Schweitzer, the president of the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told Reuters concerning the cancellation of the meeting with Larijani. “In all, the visit was an important step.”
After years of tough international sanctions it will take time to rebuild momentum in the relationship, he said. “Now some trust must be rebuilt,” Schweitzer said, adding that Gabriel’s trip no doubt was helpful in achieving that goal.
Reinhold Festge, the president of the German machine builders association VDMA, told Reuters that he came away with a positive impression after meeting with Iranian officials.
“In this respect, after this trip, I am a little more reassured,” he said.
Larijani cancels a meeting with Gabriel
One unexpected development altered Gabriel’s itinerary on Tuesday when Iran’s parliamentary chairman Ali Larijani abruptly canceled a meeting with Germany’s Social Democrat chairman, who is also Merkel’s deputy chancellor.
Rumours said that Larijani canceled talks with German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel in Tehran on Tuesday after the high-profile visitor had urged Iran to pursue reforms at home and act responsibly in Syria.
Larijani, seen as a moderate conservative in Iran, was the highest-ranking figure Gabriel was due to meet on his two-day trip, aimed at boosting trade ties after Tehran’s landmark deal with world powers to scale back its nuclear program.
No reason was given for the cancellation, a spokeswoman for Gabriel said.
Gabriel had on Monday backed reforms pursued by President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who faces resistance from influential conservatives, saying: “The alternative to the current government is a return to the times of great confrontation.”
He also said Iran, which provides economic and military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, should help push for a ceasefire in Syria’s civil war, adding: “I think Iran knows its responsibility there.”
Sadeq Larijani, the brother of the parliament speaker and head of Iran’s judiciary, criticized Gabriel on Monday for his comments. “If I were in the government’s position or in the foreign minister’s shoes I would never let such a person come to Iran,” he said.
The apparent snub to Gabriel highlighted the challenge facing Western governments as they try to cultivate ties with Iran’s political leadership, divided between moderates and hardliners, and seek to position their companies for lucrative new business deals.