By Nader Sardari, IPS Correspondent in Germany


Iranian president Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami will officially visit Germany from 10 to 12 July, the German Foreign Ministry announced Friday, confirming a news published a day before by Iran Press Service in exclusivity.

German sources said the visit take place on demand from the Iranian side and after fulfilling a German sine quoi none condition that was the release from prison of the German businessman Helmut Hofer, who was jailed for more than a year on charges of having established sexual relationship with an Iranian Muslim woman.

Islamic Republic's major trading partner and political supporter in Europe, Germany's relations with Tehran suffered a heavy blow after a Berlin Court judging the assassination in Berlin of 4 prominent leaders of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan in September 1992 by Iranian and Lebanese agents ruled in April 1997 that all senior Iranian clerical leaders, including the regime's leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i and Hojjatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani were directly involved in the murder of Iranian dissidents abroad.

To punish the Germans, the Iranians took poor Hofer as hostage, charging him of illegal relationship with an Iranian woman, an act forbidden under Islam-based Iranian laws, and condemned to death.

Ties improved after Mr. Hofer was finally released, opening the way for Mr. Khatami's visit, but the arrest in Germany last year of an Iranian agent who had infiltrated Iranian opposition groups in the one hand and the Iranian conservatives-controlled Television's controversial coverage of a conference organised in Berlin last April by the Heinrich Boel Institute, on the other, delayed the visit, as the so-called "documentary" served as pretext for the hard liners to closie all reformist newspapers and jailing Iranians who had participated at the meeting.

The Conference on the prospects for reform process in Iran after the reformists landslide victory in the February Legislative elections was organised after the visit to Tehran in March by the German "Green" Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Like all EU members, Germany also backs Mr. Khatami's reform process and hopes that the visit by the "moderate" Iranian president would help improving Tehran-Berlin's relations and strengthens ties with the European Union.

Beside meetings with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Johannes Rau, his counterpart, Mr. Khatami will visit the historic city of Weimar in Thuringen (Thuringia), the hometown of Friedrich von Sciller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, two world renown writer and poet, the latter an admirer of the great Iranian poet Hafez.

It is interesting to note that it was in this Lander that Martin Luther, the German theologian started his Reformation movement by denouncing the wealth and corruption of the papacy, resulting in his excommunication by the Catholic Church.

Declared the world's 2000 Cultural Capital, Weimar was also the city where Germany's first Constitution of a Democratic Federal Republic was proclaimed in 1919.

With many Iranian opposition groups determined to stage demonstrations, the visit is placed under heavy security measures. It was for this reason that the date of the venue had been kept secret until it was disclosed by IPS.

If materialised, it would become Mr. Khatami's third visit to a European capital after Rome and Paris. ENDS KHATAMI GERMANY 30600


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