German president under fire for message to Iran

Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier came under fire over a congratulatory telegram sent to Iran on the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, with a Jewish community leader on Monday joining a chorus of criticism.

German president under fire for message to Iran
Steinmeier in Halle in Saxony-Anhalt on Monday. Photo: DPA

Taking aim at Steinmeier for failing to include criticisms of the Islamic
regime in the message, Josef Schuster, who heads Germany's Central Council of Jews, said that “routine diplomacy appears to have overtaken critical thinking”.

“It is incomprehensible that sensitivity was missing in the topic of Iran in the president's office,” Schuster told Bild daily.

“If it was necessary to send congratulations on this anniversary, then the
president should have at least found some clear words criticising the regime,” he added.

Human Rights Watch's director for Germany, Wenzel Michalski, has also
called the message “shocking”.

The foreign policy chief of the business-friendly FDP party, Frank Mueller-Rosentritt, said the telegram must have felt like a “resounding slap
in the face for our friends in Israel who are exposed to constant threats of
annihilation by Iran”.

The telegram has not been made public by the president's office. But Bild
last week quoted excerpts of the message, which it said included Steinmeier's promise to do all in his power to implement the nuclear deal on limiting Tehran's atomic programme.

The newspaper said however that there was no mention of Tehran's backing of Hamas and Hezbollah in the message.

At the government's weekly briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said there had been a “misunderstanding”.

“To our knowledge, the president did not send congratulations for the anniversary of the Islamic revolution. His congratulations were on the occasion of Iran's national day celebrations. Both days fall on the same day.

“It is common practice for states that have diplomatic relations to send
congratulations on national day celebrations,” Breul said on Friday.

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Danish terror trial begins against Iranian separatists

Three leaders of an Iranian Arab separatist group pleaded not guilty to financing and promoting terrorism in Iran with Saudi Arabia's backing, as their trial opened in Denmark on Thursday.

Danish terror trial begins against Iranian separatists
File photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The three risk 12 years in prison if found guilty.

Aged 39 to 50, the trio are members of the separatist organisation ASMLA (Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz), which is based in Denmark and the Netherlands and which Iran considers a terrorist group.

The three, one of whom is a Danish citizen, have been held in custody in Denmark since February 2020.

Gert Dyrn, lawyer for the eldest of the three, told AFP that in his client’s opinion “what they are charged with is legitimate resistance towards an oppressive regime.”

“They are not denying receiving money from multiple sources, including Saudi Arabia, to help the movement and help them accomplish their political aim,” Dyrn said. 

His client has lived as a refugee in Denmark since 2006. 

According to the charge sheet seen by AFP, the three received around 30 million kroner (four million euros, $4.9 million) for ASMLA and its armed branch, through bank accounts in Austria and the United Arab Emirates.

The trio is also accused of spying on people and organisations in Denmark between 2012 and 2020 for Saudi intelligence.

Finally, they are also accused of promoting terrorism and “encouraging the activities of the terrorist movement Jaish Al-Adl, which has activities in Iran, by supporting them with advice, promotion, and coordinating attacks.”

The case dates back to 2018 when one of the three was the target of a foiled attack on Danish soil believed to be sponsored by the Iranian regime in retaliation for the killing of 24 people in Ahvaz, southwestern Iran, in September 2018.


Tehran formally denied the attack plan in Denmark, but a Danish court last year jailed a Norwegian-Iranian for seven years for his role in the plot. 

That attack put Danish authorities on the trail of the trio’s ASMLA activities.

Sunni Saudi Arabia is the main rival in the Middle East of Shia Iran, and Tehran regularly accuses it, along with Israel and the United States, of supporting separatist groups.

Lawyer Gert Dyrn said this was “the first case in Denmark within terror law where you have to consider who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter.”