THE BERLIN CONFERENCE ON IRAN: A GOOD IDEA THAT BACKFIRED

By Safa Haeri, IPS Editor

BERLIN 10TH Apr. (IPS) The Conference on "Iran after the Elections" that was organised in Berlin by the Heinrisch Boll Stiftung, not only failed to promote relations between Germany and the Islamic Republic of Iran, but it also badly hurt the dialogue that had started painstakingly between Iranian reformists inside and outside, according to most independent observers who attended the three days event.

The idea of inviting some reformists figures from Iran to explain Iranian situation and the reform process originally belonged to the German Foreign Minister as the Administration in charge of preparing the visit of Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami.

In order to pave the grounds for the event that the German government wants to become a landmark in the one hand and avoid the hurdles that marred Mr. Khatami's prior official visits to Italy and France on the other, the Heinrisch Boll Institute, an independent German cultural organisation close to the Green Party that is led by the Foreign Minister Joska Fischer was asked to carry out the mission.

A task force formed by Thomas Hartman and Mehdi Ja'fari-Gorzini, both from the Greens and Mr. Bahman Nuroumand, a former communist turned pro-Khatami started working on the project and after months of efforts and trips to Iran, selected a galerie of "stars" that included independent reformist journalists and cleric, pro-Khatami officials, political and intellectual dissidents, prominent women.

Though the intention was great, but it seems that the organisers were unaware of the weight, importance and complexities of the task, a "mission impossible", they had accepted without having any experience or skill for such a highly sensitive and touchy diplomatic performance.

Probably one of the Germans biggest mistake was to put in charge of such an important project Iranians like Mr. Niroumand, a leftist dissident accused by the opposition of collaboration with the Islamic Republic, hence the protesters slogan "Ayatollah Niroumand, Congratulation on your new job" (as a waiter for the German and Iranians).

Another mistake by the inexperienced task force team was to take its desire for realities, according to analysts. "Since they consider the guests as reformists, they thought they would be greeted by the Iranian Diaspora as heroes, forgetting that the great majority of the Iranians outside are against the Islamic Republic, a regime they have suffered from in their bones and fleshes.

Not only the organisers had tried to keep the project a tight secret, refusing to discuss it with other independent Iranian analysts and experts, but also they had forgot to make an evaluation of the situation, or a feasibility study, by ignoring the disruptive power of Iranian leftist organisations such as the Iranian Communist-Workers Party (ICWP) or the fact that Berlin has always been the historic centre of Iranian militantism.

Again, both the choice of the House of World Cultures for the meeting, the hiring of a brutal private security organisation and refusing organised parties to attend the conference were mistakes that fuelled anti-conference demonstrators anger and provoking the extremists.

The noisy cacophony and demonstrations against the conference held in the grand auditorium of the Haus Der Kulturel Der Welt, the condemnation of some of the guests like Mr. Jala'ipour and Akbar Ganji, accused of being members of the Intelligence Ministry or the Revolutionary Guards responsible for the execution of hundreds of political prisoners, the "striptease" performed by two protesters, the sexy dance during Hojatoleslam Yusefi-Eshkevari's speech etc did not pleased the Iranian "kings and queens", visibly shocked at the violence of the welcome the Iranians reserved them.

"The outcome of the initiative would be negative for Germany", pointed out a political analyst, saying, "it would have been better for Germany not to try to lift such a heavy stone".

However, the Conference provided a rare occasion for many Iranians and Germans alike to be able to judge by themselves some of the people who are supposed to struggle for democracy and reform process in Iran.

Iranians were particularly astounded by the low level of general knowledge, the lack of sophistication, low degree of education of the guests, as symbolised by Mrs. Jamileh Kadivar, the newly elected MP from Tehran.

As the participant's speech and behaviour were scrutinised by seasoned German diplomats like Herr Wolgang Eschinger, the Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs or Herr Hans Klose, Chairman of the Bundestag's Foreign Affairs Committee as well as experts from intelligence services, there is no doubt myths concerning the nature of the reforms engaged in Iran have been broken.

To stop short any wrong speculation, Herr Eschinger clearly stated that the normalisation process between the Islamic Republic with Germany in the one hand and the European Union on the other continue until one could draw a clear picture from the situation in Tehran.

His reiteration that Germany considers human rights as a universal value that is not divisible did not pleased the Iranian party since, as observed by Mrs. Kadivar, Iran respects only what she termed as Islamic human rights.

One big and important drawback of the Berlin experience is that the party that came from Tehran would never forget the violent demonstration the Iranians outside reserved to some of them, blocking the way for further contacts between Iranians in the future or attempt at bringing large group of reformists to meet with moderate political forces and personalities outside. ENDS IRAN BERLIN CONFERENCE 11400