The stand-off between Tehran and London over Iran's capture of 15 British sailors last Friday shows no sign of abating. On Wednesday the Iranians paraded the Britons on television and suggested the crisis could be resolved if Britain admitted the sailors were in Iranian waters when they were arrested. The British government reacted by releasing data which it says proves that the military personnel were in fact in Iraqi waters at the time of their capture -- and by freezing some bilateral relations with Tehran.
After initially attempting the softly-softly approach, the UK is now calling in the big guns in the international community. The United Nations Security Council is expected to discuss the issue later today. And UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki earlier on Thursday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where both men were attending the Arab Summit.
The German papers Thursday praised the British response to the crisis, with some newspapers calling for international solidarity in dealing with Tehran.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"No one can accuse the British government of not trying to resolve the conflict over the capture of its sailors without making a big fuss. In the light of the gravity of Iran's act of piracy, London displayed the patience of a saint in trying to build bridges with Tehran ... But, for some reason that cannot be explained rationally, Tehran has ignored these bridges. This at least makes it obvious which side is seeking escalation: Iran.
"Now Britain's sharper tone seems to be showing results: for the first time since the beginning of the crisis, the Iranian foreign ministry is making conciliatory noises ... At this point, an amicable agreement still seems possible. That is heartening news, and also contains a lesson for the future. In dealing with regimes like the one in Tehran, unity and strength is more likely to bring success than hasty conciliation and compromise."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"In Tehran we are dealing with a 'rogue regime' that seems to be set on torpedoing every chance for peace in the Gulf and the wider Middle East ... The fact that (Ahmadinejad) is now adding a hefty portion of stupidity to his usual practice of playing with fire is a new development.
"Iran is acting so aggressively in the certainty that no British or any other type of armada is going to set out to reprimand it. That doesnt make the situation any less dangerous. A crisis is simmering with Iran, one that can only be quelled with solidarity. To allow this to fail, just because the Germans differed with Washington and London on Iraq, would also be stupid."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The latest conflict between Great Britain and the Islamic Republic of Iran is potentially explosive ... It cannot be separated from the deterioration of the situation in the region. Iran feels itself exposed to growing pressure because of its nuclear plans and is defiant in the face of tougher sanctions by the international community.
"London has to deal with an Iran that is not far off from being the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. The conflict over the captured soldiers has to be solved with the help of international diplomacy before it leads to complications that no one wants.
"Despite the current antagonism, Germany has traditionally maintained good relations with Tehran, and so could perhaps give political support."
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"The manner in which the British have acted in the crisis so far has been correct and clever. At first Tony Blair's government tried to answer Iran's obvious provocation with quiet diplomacy. It was only after Iran proved itself to be stubborn that London upped the ante ... With the freezing of diplomatic relations, Great Britain has shown that it is not avoiding a confrontation.
"At first glance Iran has the upper hand, as the breaking off of diplomatic ties will not free the British soldiers. But nevertheless the British reaction makes it clear to Tehran that the capture has a price ... There is evidence that Iran has grasped this fact."
-- Siobhán Dowling, 3:15 p.m. CET
'Germany doesn't have an immigration problem'
In other news, the German government approved a 500-page bill to reform immigration laws on Wednesday. The document focuses on highly-provocative topics such as changes in rules for asylum seekers who have been living in the country without official residency, and the age of spouses allowed to immigrate to the country to join their partner.
Under the new law, the estimated 100,000 to 180,000 "tolerated" foreigners without official status must now find work before 2009 if they wish to remain in Germany. Another change is that spouses must now be 18 years old before they are allowed to join their partner in Germany -- a step the government says is tailored to prevent forced marriages. Additionally, immigrants who refuse to participate in so-called "integration" courses will now face penalties.
Immigrant organizations are not happy with the new law, however; they have sent an open letter of protest to Chancellor Angela Merkel. German dailies weren't that impressed either Thursday, with a few commentators even saying that the new law is discriminatory.
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Once upon a time there was an interior minister who called things by their names... The only thing to differentiate the young (Interior Minister) Wolfgang Schäuble from the grey-haired Schäuble, are his new word choices... It's no problem for him to switch from using the term 'foreigners' to 'people with immigration backgrounds.' ... A new spirit doesn't exist, though -- on the contrary.
"New obstacles are being built against naturalization and family unification for refugees and migrants, and they are aimed at the Turkish. The integration of the largest immigrant group can't work this way. The Turkish organisations justifiably feel that theyve been made fools of .... When the chips are down, Schäuble cynically takes advantage of the fact that many immigrants have no lobby -- and no voting rights."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"Both parties really bit the bullet on this ... . The Social Democratic Party (SPD) has presented itself as open-hearted towards immigration, and then met growing difficulties with benevolent neglect. The conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) are just admitting that 'people with immigration backgrounds' are a part of this society, and that, when integration works, this is an asset. ...
"None of the politicians in question have allowed themselves to be deterred by the current climate of agitation, as exemplified by (current DER SPIEGEL cover story) 'Mecca Germany.' In no other coalition would such a thing be possible."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Actually, Germany doesn't have an immigration problem. The number of people who came to Germany in the past has been steadily sinking ... . The problem ... is inadequate integration. Germany successfully persuaded itself 30 years ago that it wasn't an immigration country, and left the foreigners it 'invited' to themselves. This began a vicious circle of compartmentalisation and exclusion.
"The law ... is a practical step that helps people to find their way here. But spouses from the USA, Canada, or Japan are exempt -- no one makes them learn German. It's such exceptions that give young Turks the feeling that the state doesn't want to help them, but instead wants to discriminate against them."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Politicians from the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) had reason to be happy yesterday. After the cabinet passed the new immigration law, they greeted the paradigm shift in immigration and integration politics. ... With a host of changes, they've increased the obstacles for immigrants even further. And for no good reason -- Germany isn't flooded with immigrants or refugees.
"Integration can't occur in society through force and penalties alone. ... It sends a signal that Germany places no value in immigrants. ... In a globalized world characterized by open borders, this kind of separation is the wrong path."
-- Spiegel Staff 5:30 p.m. CET