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E.U. Sanctions on Tehran Bite, but German Politician Undermines Them, Say Activists

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Following last week's passage of the toughest round of E. U. sanctions yet against the Iranian regime, German human rights activists who have promoted tougher sanctions against Tehran say that while the latest round is progress, Germany should do better.

Specifically, members of Stop the Bomb, a Berlin-based coalition of activists and intellectuals dedicated to preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, say that while these sanctions are important, they are not strong enough to truly isolate the regime.

"I think we need a second round, and more pressure on the regime," says Ulrike Becker, founding member of Stop the Bomb.

Also, Becker and other members of Stop the Bomb expressed dismay this week at the decision of a German member of Parliament to travel to Tehran to discuss the Iranian nuclear program and criticize Israel, saying these actions undermine international cooperation to isolate the Iranian regime.

Dr. Rainer Stinner, foreign policy speaker of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the German Parliament, traveled this week to Tehran, where according to Iranian media he spoke of the "right" of all nations to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

The visit, which Stop the Bomb activists say they believe could not have taken place without the German government's knowledge, demonstrates Germany's unwillingness to break with the Iranian regime -- while that regime uses dialogue as a stalling tactic to continue its development of nuclear weapons, according to Michael Spaney, director of Stop the Bomb in Berlin.

"This travel of the foreign policy speaker of the liberals -- this is the wrong signal," Spaney said.

Instead of further isolating and pressuring the "illegitimate and criminal" regime in Iran, such a visit is strengthening to the regime diplomatically -- and undermines cooperative E.U., U.N. and U.S. efforts to finally get serious about isolating Tehran, according to Spaney.

Spaney believes Stinner's visit is being used by the Iranian regime media for propagandist purposes.

"It's being used for the regime's propaganda as a success of still upholding dialogue and being in negotiations with the West."

Spaney says members of the Iranian opposition, mostly young people seeking their freedom, generally support the recent E.U. sanctions, which are directed against Iran's elite, including the Revolutionary Guard.

"The opposition are welcoming the sanctions from the European Union, the U.N. and the U.S." says Spaney.

Saba Farzan, a German, Iranian-born journalist who lives in Berlin and tells me she is in contact with members of Iran's opposition who have escaped to Europe, issued a public letter on Facebook condemning Stinner for traveling to Tehran at this time.

"The... dialogue with this regime is fortunately over now -- actually it never really existed," Farzan wrote. "This week Iran's largest trade partner, the European Union, has passed finally very tough sanctions. Traveling now to Iran and playing little Chamberlain is extremely dangerous and shows a lack of analytic expertise."

Stinner responded to Farzan's open letter with an open letter on his own Facebook page:

Who denies talking, accepts shooting. I'm an independent parliamentarian and I draw conclusions on my own. I don't rely on the Iranian propaganda, not on propaganda from elsewhere, and I don't exclusively rely on your opinion.

Other liberal party members including Dr. Nikoline Hansen, a local FDP leader in Berlin, have criticized Stinner's trip on human rights grounds as dialogue with a totalitarian regime and on economic grounds as potentially jeopardizing Germany's relationship with trading partner Israel.

On his Facebook page Stinner cited, as a rationale for his trip, the desire to promote cooperation with Tehran in discussing problems including drugs, crime and refugees in Afghanistan.

This rationale makes no sense, according to Spaney.

"I don't know what he is thinking, [with] this assumption that Iran's government has the same interest in Afghanistan as the Western world," said Spaney. "As we know from Wikileaks and other sources, Iran is supplying the Taliban and responsible for the deaths of NATO soldiers and German soldiers in Afghanistan."