The World from Berlin 'The Confrontation between Iran and the West Will Surely Escalate'

Most Western countries refrained from attending President Ahmadinejad's inauguration ceremony on Wednesday, but a few didn't. German commentators are not sure whether it's politically shrewder to snub the current Iranian leadership or, instead, try to revive ailing relations.

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in for a second four-year term as Iranian president on Wednesday, he did so in the absence of many Western representatives, in a room emptied out by boycotting lawmakers and with hundreds of protesters outside the building battling riot police armed with batons and pepper spray.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes an address after being sworn-in for a second four-year presidential term on Wednesday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes an address after being sworn-in for a second four-year presidential term on Wednesday.

The domestic upheaval has been sparked by the disputed June 12 elections that Ahmadinejad was deemed to have won despite accusations of massive fraud. Since then violent crackdowns on protesters that have left dozens dead and an untold number in prison. And there have been mass trials of prominent reformist political figures in the worst turmoil since the Islamic Revolution 30 years ago. Most experts regard the unrest as proof of growing fissures between the various classes and political groupings in Iran.

The situation has left Western leaders in a tricky spot. Most would like to loudly voice their support for the concept of free and fair elections and the people fighting for these ideals in Iran. At the same time, though, they are tempering any criticism in the hope that the right mixture of sticks and carrots with Iran will lead to positive results in the now-stalled negotiations to halt Iran's nuclear power program, which the West believes is in fact aimed at making the Islamic republic another nuclear-armed power in this particularly volatile region.

The responses to Ahmadinejad's inauguration varied. France and Sweden, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, both sent official envoys to the ceremony. Britain's ambassador to Iran also attended. Britain's Foreign Office defended the move, saying in a statement that the situation called for "hard-headed diplomacy" and that "communications channels have to be kept open," but it did say that it refrained from sending Ahmadinejad a message of congratulations.

No other major Western powers sent representatives, and, furthermore, the United States, Italy, France and Germany also chose to not send a customary congratulatory message. On Monday, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that "in view of his controversial re-election, the chancellor won't be congratulating" Ahmadinejad, according to the German news agency DPA.

In his inauguration speech Wednesday, Ahmadinejad responded to these snubs. "We heard that some of the Western leaders have decided to recognize but not congratulate the new government," Ahmadinejad said. "Well, nobody in Iran is waiting for anyone's congratulations. We don't value your congratulations, and we don't value your smiles."

In Thursday's newspapers, German commentators debate the propriety of having Western diplomats present at Ahmadinejad's inauguration ceremony, but their main focus is on where all this turmoil is could be leading.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Interactions with Tehran would be easier for Western countries if a reformist president like Mohammad Khatami was in office or perhaps even a new person with good manners. But since that's not the case, the old rules of international politics are in play: You foster relations with whoever can effectively exercise power."

"We don't even need to ask questions about the quality of the election or the legitimacy of the rulers. If we did, what would Europe's relations really be like with places like North Africa, large parts of the Middle East and the majority of sub-Saharan Africa?"

"Europe actually has warm relations with a number of these rulers. In comparison, issues with Iran are actually quite simple: Although a contested president governs here, he does so with the support of at least part of the population and a number of institutions. The Iranians themselves are in the worst position of all: They've been condemned to four more years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Conservative Die Welt writes:

"Just how weak Ahmadinejad is will be shown in the coming days when he names his ministers. If there is too much protesting in the parliament, he will have to call for a vote of confidence -- which, in itself, would be a severe blow. …"

"In this context, the fact that the ambassador of Sweden, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, participated in Ahmadinejad's inauguration ceremony sends a completely wrong signal. There are reports of a supposed meningitis outbreak at Tehran's Evin Prison, and relatives of demonstrators who have been killed are not being allowed to claim their bodies. But, while all this is going on, a representative of the EU is standing among a crowd of people congratulating Iran's head of state -- a very sleazy sight."

"At least Germany's government didn't send an ambassador, though it did send an 'observer' who, in passing, repeated Germany's protests against the jailings and demands for a recount. That's enough to keep the so-called channels of communication open -- which continues to be the correct thing to do. There's no need for armchair radicalism here."

Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The swearing-in ceremony of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term in office cannot hide the reality of the current situation in the Islamic republic. The head of state would only have to take a look around the political chamber (the ceremony was held in) or outside the parliamentary building to realize that the major national crisis sparked by the election fraud is far from over. For the first time since the Islamic republic was founded, parliamentarians and the heads of important political bodies have boycotted the ceremony, and security officials and militia members are having to use massive violence to disperse demonstrators outside, who are chanting 'Down with the dictator!"

"The reason that these protests are continuing lies in the fact that they have laid bare all the disagreements, power struggles and political infighting of the establishment. The protests have taught all Iranians -- and even those in the most remote provinces -- that the country's leaders are not concerned with justice, morality and Islam. Instead, they only care about power and reaching their ideology-gilded goals."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"In his inaugural address, Ahmadinejad refrained from using harsh words against the United States, Great Britain and Israel. But the confrontation between Iran and the West will surely escalate. Even if Mir Houssein Mousavi had become the new president, Iran would most likely not have given ground in the controversy over its nuclear program. But with Ahmadinejad at the top, any such backing down is completely unthinkable. Obstinacy in the atomic conflict as well as Ahmadinejad's own personality will prevent US President Barack Obama from being able to approach Iran and extend new offers to negotiate. The US Congress had put off passing new sanctions until after the elections -- but it will surely pass them soon. And, in Israel, hardly a day goes by without more speculation on possible attack scenarios on the nuclear facilities in Iran."

Josh Ward -- 1:00 p.m. CEST


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