Question: There’s a pattern behind these verbal attacks: the Holocaust is a myth; the myth of the massacre of Jews is considered more important in the West than God, religions and the prophets. These are the words of President Ahmadinejad of Iran who, in a speech he made in the provinces, called once more for Israel to be moved to Europe, the US, Canada or Alaska. Naturally, the West is outraged and shocked, while Israel is alarmed. What should be done? The German Bundestag is debating this issue today […]. Has the Federal Foreign Office already invited the Iranian President or at least the Iranian Ambassador in Berlin to visit a concentration camp or the Holocaust Memorial?

Answer: That’s yesterday’s suggestion. However, the Federal Foreign Office summoned the Iranian chargé d’affaires and informed him in no uncertain terms how scandalous the Iranian President’s provocation is. That was the diplomatic step taken. The Federal Foreign Minister, as well as the Chancellor, have also expressed very clear views on this matter.

Q: President Ahmadinejad should actually be arrested on charges of inciting hatred and violence if he enters Germany, shouldn’t he?

A: That’s why a motion sponsored by all parties in the Bundestag is being discussed during today’s debate on human rights. And the parties will state their standpoints in all clarity.

Q: Have the President’s remarks … put Iran on the "axis of evil"?

A: This "axis of evil" is an attempt, as it were, to exclude a country from the international community. The question is whether that is the right solution at this point in time. We know that many Iranians don’t agree with their President and are fully aware that he’s trying to raise his domestic profile… He is appealing here to the masses. What makes this so dangerous is that he is not only appealing to the masses in Iran but also to a broader public in the Arab world. It is high time for these states to react. I am genuinely concerned that the Arab states have been so reluctant to respond to date, even those which do recognize Israel’s right to exist, for example Egypt and Jordan. They are afraid that Ahmadinejad’s remarks will strike a chord among their own population and haven’t found the courage to categorically condemn this provocation.

Q: Isn’t the Iranian President simply saying out loud what many Arab leaders think?

A: I fear that he is saying out loud what is certainly in the minds of poor sections of the population, in the minds of those who have few prospects for the future and are looking for someone to blame for their problems. It is therefore vital that political leaders who know that this is an extremely dangerous development because it is completely unpredictable, e.g. in terms of the reactions in the case of Israel, whose existence is threatened once again, now use their authority and resolutely stand up to such a trend. For the first Arab voices have been heard applauding this attempt to infringe upon Israel’s right to exist, this denial of Israel’s right to exist… It is therefore to be feared that a process with unpredictable consequences has been set in motion.

Q: There will be an all-party Bundestag resolution today. Apparently the EU summit has also now presented a draft statement condemning of the Iranian President’s remarks ... Is that enough? Can we respond to these verbal attacks with mere words?

A: The problem is that if, for example, we take other steps, such as suspending or even breaking off diplomatic relations – this would of course also be conceivable – then that would put another goal further out of reach, namely that of negotiating an end to Iran’s nuclear programmes, in so far as they produce weapons-grade plutonium… We are about to resume talks with Iran. Another meeting between … Britain, France and Germany, which are negotiating on behalf of the EU, with the deputy chairman of Iran’s National Security Council is due to take place on 21 December… This issue is so important that it has to be taken into consideration when deciding what steps to take in response to the outrageous remarks made by Ahmadinejad.

Q: Is there any point to the talks on 21 December now that Ahmadinejad himself has said that Tehran has absolutely no intention of abandoning any part of its programme?

A: Precisely this contradiction is very typical of the current situation in Iran. On the one side we hear the tough comments in public … on the other side … there are again signs that they are after all prepared to overcome the deadlock in the negotiations. It is not so easy for the international community to find the right response.

Q: Nevertheless, shouldn’t we stop German companies which exported goods to the tune of 3.6 billion euro last year to Iran? For in theory there is a danger that key components for the country’s nuclear or armaments programme could be supplied indirectly in this way, thus indirectly threatening Israel once more?

A: Both our external trade regulations as well as the rules on arms exports, which also govern the trade in so-called dual-use goods, that is to say goods which can be used for either civilian or military purposes, provide for extremely tight controls. The relevant regulations in Germany are tougher and more restrictive than in any other European state.

Q: Would you rule out a trade embargo?

A: Of course I do not rule that out. At least I wouldn’t say that our economic interests are so important that we can’t even talk about such a measure. At the moment I can’t see what could move us to impose a sanction of this kind. However, should we have to weigh up between Israel’s right of existence and to integrity on one side and German trade interests on the other, then it is clear how we would decide.

Q: Demands are now being made, for example, to exclude Iran from the World Cup […]. What do you think of that?

A: My response to that would be that maybe there is another solution. Instead of excluding Iran from the World Cup we could perhaps, if the issue is still so pressing then, take advantage of this event to make it clear to Iranian guests at every opportunity, to everyone with whom we have a chance to speak, how much Iran has isolated itself, to what extent it has laid itself open to international criticism, indeed is excluding itself from the international community. Such an event, where we will have more contact with Iranians than usual, would provide a good opportunity to get our message across. […]