Published in German weekly Spiegel Online on 21 October 2010
English translation kindly provided by Elli Mee

It is a delicate trip to a country where those in power act harshly against opposition members: the Christian Democrat politician Peter Gauweiler and fellow Members of Parliament are currently staying in Iran. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE (SPON) he talks about his motives.

SPON: Mr Gauweiler, as chairman of the subcommittee on foreign cultural and educational policy, you together with colleagues from other political parties are currently visiting Iran. The international community accuses the country of pursuing its secret nuclear weapons program. Arrests of opposition members and severe punishments are making the headlines. What is the aim of this one-week trip?

Gauweiler: Germany sees its foreign cultural policy as a contribution to preventing conflicts, protecting human rights and promoting freedom. The German language institute in Tehran is highly popular, the German school needs to be extended, and representatives of Iranian cinema, music, theater, literature and fine arts want to build relations with us.

SPON: The relations between Iran and Germany are currently stressed by the arrest of two German journalists in Iran. So far, diplomatic officers were unable to get in contact with them. Did you address this issue?

Gauweiler: Yes, of course. We are very concerned with it.

SPON: President Ahmadinejad is acting harshly against the opposition. Are you not lending support to the hardliners with your visit?

Gauweiler: No, why? Our cultural and language services, academic exchange programs and the German school benefit people from all backgrounds and social groups.

SPON: You are staying in Iran until Friday. Are you going to meet opposition members?

Gauweiler: Yes, that has been an important point for me and my colleagues from the beginning. We have managed to do so despite time constraints.

SPON: For a Western politician visiting Iran, there is always danger of being exploited by the regime. According to the Iranian state TV channel IRIB, you have praised the peaceful coexistence of religions in Iran and criticized the propaganda of Western mass media. What is behind these headlines?

Gauweiler: I am unaware of the details of these stories. Our experiences with the Iranian press are mixed. But it should not be denied that the Christian communities in Iran can practice their faith more freely than those in some Arab countries with whom we are allied. And where else in the Middle East is there a Jewish community with 20,000 members and numerous synagogues across the country? This does not mean that we ignore and diminish the problems. On Monday, we visited the Jewish community of Tehran and handed over a present from the Munich Israelite community, which Charlotte Knobloch (President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany – the redaction) had given to me. We also visited a catholic and a protestant community in Tehran.

SPON: You recently visited North Korea together with a member of the Liberal Party (FDP). Is it your goal, as chairman of the subcommittee on foreign cultural policy, to visit dictatorial regimes?

Gauweiler: No need to worry. With these instruments of “small-scale” foreign cultural policy, we want to become active in regions that are full of tensions, where big diplomacy meets its limits.

Interview by Severin Weiland