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Iran: Germany's special friend

Analysis: For anyone wondering why Germany joined the Iran talks, there is in fact an answer.

Iran Nuclear Program
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Said Jalili (second from right) leaves the Blue mosque in Turkey on Jan. 21, 2011. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

BERLIN, Germany — When Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili sat down for talks in Istanbul with six world powers this week, he could have quoted German philosophy and poetry.

Henning Riecke, an analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations, once took part in a discussion session in Tehran in which Jalili demonstrated an impressive knowledge of Germany’s intellectual history.

“He could easily quote German philosophers like Hegel and Heidegger and the closeness of Goethe to the [Persian poet] Hafez,” Riecke said.

Iranians feel a kinship with Germany, experts say. For anyone wondering how Germany came to be tacked onto the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to make the ad hoc P5+1 group dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there is in fact a sound logic behind the inclusion.

Germany has a special relationship with Iran that, in spite of frequent disappointments including Saturday’s news that no progress was made in persuading Iran to rein in its nuclear program, did at least help get Tehran to the negotiating table and keep it there.

“There are good reasons why Germany should be in the talks. Germany has a traditionally good relationship with Iran,” Riecke said. “The Iranians never fail to point out Germany’s deep closeness with Iran. They say we Germans are close to them because we are both Aryans. We usually stop the talk about that.”

Unlike Britain and to some extent France — who make up the P5 along with the U.S., China and Russia — Germany has no messy colonial history in the region. Iran feels a kinship with Germany as a country that, like itself, is a regional giant.

“The Iranians see a lot of parallels. [They] see Germans as natural partners,” Riecke said.

The two countries have a long and rich economic history and Germany remains, despite sanctions, one of Iran’s biggest trading partners. Indeed trade grew 2.6 percent between January and November last year to $4.7 billion even though major German firms including Siemens, ThyssenKrupp and Daimler curtailed their business with Iran because of EU sanctions.

Germany’s economic history with Iran goes back a century, during which Germany has accepted that an independent Iran was in its own interests, said Walter Posch, an Iran expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

“It has built up technological skills that were very much appreciated by the Iranians.”

Furthermore, it has been pragmatic. While it has always pressed the issue of human rights, sometimes sparking tension, it has “never questioned the outcome of the [1979 Islamic] revolution or the nature of the regime.”

Germany’s involvement reflects its strong urge to push for diplomatic rather than military solutions in dealing with troublesome countries and also Europe’s urge to present a common foreign policy.