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Iran Appoints New Man To Berlin With Nuclear Diplomacy Background

Iran's new ambassador to Germany, Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadeh. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Stefan Nicola
UPI Germany Correspondent
Berlin (UPI) Apr 20, 2006
Iran has named one of its top diplomats as the new ambassador to Germany in an obvious bid to place a man with a nuclear diplomacy background into the heart of Europe.

Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadeh, the new man in Berlin, was Iran's envoy to the United Nations in Vienna and, in the same city, to the International Atomic Energy Agency in late 2005, at a time when the nuclear row between Iran and the West first escalated.

The announcement comes as the conflict over Iran's controversial nuclear program is heating up. Late Tuesday, talks between the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany ended without an agreement on how to proceed in the ongoing spat.

"The appointment shows what kind of role the Iranian leadership expects the nuclear conflict to play in the future," Erwin Haeckel, non-proliferation expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, Wednesday told United Press International. He added: "Iran has always valued (having) special relations with Germany."

The appointment comes under a plan to replace some 60 Iranian ambassadors this year. The Iranians claim this comes as part of a normal procedure to retire diplomats who have simply served their time.

But observers say it's not that simple. "It's obvious that (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad wants to fill diplomatic posts with people loyal to him," Haeckel said of the move.

Apart from the Berlin envoy, Iran will also replace its ambassadors to Britain and France, Iranian news agencies reported. These countries together for the past two years have unsuccessfully tried to resolve the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West at the negotiation table. The West believes Iran is using its atomic energy program to secretly build nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.

Germany may be the country that Tehran has the highest hopes in to take their side, Haeckel said.

"Iran has always trusted Germany the most. Maybe that's also because it's one of the few nations negotiating with Iran without nuclear weapons."

Relations between both countries have been quite strong before the nuclear impasse, and they remain close when it comes to trade.

An ambitious economic policy and excellent, long-established interpersonal contacts between business leaders in Germany and Iran have fostered an intense trade relationship that has soared in recent years. Last year, exports to Iran rose by 27 percent. German companies sold goods, mostly heavy machinery, automobile parts and chemicals, for a total of roughly $5 billion.

Germany's incentive to resolve the crisis with diplomatic means is connected with the many German firms that depend on doing brisk business with Iran.

However the new German government, led by conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, may be ready to strike a harsher note against Iran, which includes calling for U.N.-mandated sanctions.

Merkel is considered to be much more pro-American than her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, who was one of the most outspoken opponents of the U.S.-led Iraq war. Ever since Merkel took office late last November, the atmosphere between Washington and Berlin has steadily improved. U.S. President George W. Bush and Merkel are reported to have frequent phone conversations on international issues, a rapport that would have been unthinkable during Schroeder's term.

Observers say Iran may count on Berlin's new status in Washington, which is based on a "near-Persian" way of conducting diplomacy that includes "flattery and retreat" as much as "advances and perseverance," the Berliner Zeitung wrote in a Wednesday commentary.

"Iran wants to use Germany's special status, its connections and reputation."

People who have met Akhondzadeh say he is quite a sophisticated diplomat, and may be the right man for such a job.

"He strongly supports the government's position not to contain its nuclear options," George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a left-of-center Washington think tank, Wednesday told United Press International via telephone.

"But at the same time he doesn't speak with a confrontational emphasis. He's no isolationist, rather an internationalist. This guy is a real professional."

Akhondzadeh's career started in 1981 as a diplomat in India; he later headed the diplomatic mission in London and was ambassador to Pakistan (1993-1998), according to the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

In the late 1980s, he headed the European Studies Center in Tehran and during the 1990s advised Iran's foreign ministers on international diplomacy, global economic questions and international law. He holds a master's degree in civil engineering, and is married and with two children.

On Sept. 24, 2005, when the IAEA warned Iran over possible U.N. involvement, Akhondzadeh responded by saying: "We do not... seek confrontation. We do not welcome a diplomatic impasse. We do not seek an end to negotiations.

"But negotiations under threats are meaningless and cannot be conducive to an agreement. Under threats of confrontation we will have no alternative but to pursue and preserve our rights. And this, we will do resolutely."

Source: United Press International

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The United States demanded Wednesday an end to Russia's cooperation with Iran in building the Islamic republic's first civilian nuclear power station and also suggested halting a sale of Russian missiles.

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