BERLIN (JTA) – Criticism of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is growing, after he publicly congratulated the Iranian regime on its 40th anniversary.
Steinmeier, of the Social Democratic Party, expressed his “heartfelt congratulations on the national holiday of the Islamic Republic of Iran, also on behalf of my fellow citizens,” in a telegram sent last week. He later noted he had not congratulated the regime for its Islamic revolution.
Politicians and Jewish leaders have let it be known that they found Steinmeier’s comment less than appropriate. Critics have noted that the message comes at a time when both Israel and the US have been pressuring Europe to end the nuclear agreement that former US President Barack Obama concluded with Iran.
The United States has often accused Iran, whose rulers have organized several conferences devoted to mocking and denying the Holocaust, of anti-Semitism. Vice President Mike Pence accused Iran of Nazi-like anti-Semitism last month. Iran denies this, saying it only opposes Zionism.
Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, demanded a clarification. According to the Spiegel online magazine, Steinmeier spoke by phone with Schuster and assured him that he was critical of Iran’s human rights record and of the regime’s destabilizing impact on the region. He added that Germany’s priority – as well as that of the European Union – is to prevent a nuclear arms race and escalation of violence, and to protect Israel’s security.
Steinmeier, who assumed the largely symbolic office of president in March 2017, has defended his actions as a diplomatic custom that keeps doors open to the regime.
But Steinmeier didn’t bother to congratulate U.S. President Donald Trump on his 2016 election, when Steinmeier was still foreign minister, noted Gitta Connemann, deputy chief of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag.
In a commentary for the Tagespost newspaper, Connemann said she was “stunned” by the congratulations to a regime where “people in the opposition are tortured, homosexuals are executed.”
Not even the fact that the regime threatens Israel and denies the Holocaust was enough to give Steinmeier pause, noted columnist Malte Lehming of the Tagesspiegel newspaper. He called the blunder “Steinmeier’s first serious mistake in the highest state office.”