In July 1984, West German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher visited Tehran, the highest-level Western official to do so in the five years since the Iranian revolution. Genscher reported that his hosts expressed strong interest in refurbishing Iran’s ties with Europe and Japan. Germany’s own trade links with the Islamic Republic are already considerable. In 1983, West German exports to Iran reached an all time high of 7.72 billion deutsch marks (DM 1.90 = $1). The pre-revolutionary high had been at DM 6.77 billion in 1978, only to drop to DM 2.35 billion in 1979, the year the Shah was deposed.
Since then, West German exports have increased steadily. Der Spiegel quotes Werner Blessing, president of the Deutsche Bank (one of the largest West German banks) as saying that Iran has become one of the “most interesting trading partners.” The Iranians pay promptly and in cash, Blessing stated. Major commodities are vehicles (such as some 30 locomotives and 24,000 trucks in 1983), industrial machinery, chemicals and electronic equipment. Cigarettes, luxury goods and foodstuffs are exported as well.
According to the head of the German-Iranian chamber of Commerce in Tehran, Hans Ulrich Storz, the Iranian government has been able to pay most of its foreign debt, in spite of the war, and the prospects for further business are good. West German companies seem to be running into one problem, though: While West German exports to Iran are climbing, imports have declined from DM 4.22 billion in 1978 to DM 1.57 billion in 1983. Only three percent of the oil imported by West Germany comes from Iran; other import items are caviar and carpets.
The Iranian government is not particularly happy about its DM 6.15 trade deficit with West Germany last year. A government commission is examining Iranian contracts with West German companies, and Tehran has warned the West Germans that they might lose some of their business if they do not buy more Iranian goods. The contracts West Germany has now, Storz believes, might then go to Japan, which is buying much of Iran’s oil.
Closer West German ties to Iran have not prevented the German government from aiding Iraq’s war effort. This year, some 25 Iraqi air force personnel are receiving military and technical training in West Germany. The training is sponsored jointly by the West German government, the arms corporation Dornier and the Carl-Duisberg Center in Saarbrücken, West Germany. The Center, administered by leading West German corporate officials, is a training facility for West German specialists in Third World development and for Third World nationals preparing to take over management positions in Western-owned industrial projects in their home countries.
After attending a preparatory course at the Carl-Duisberg Center, the Iraqis will go on to practical training at Dornier; once their Dornier apprenticeship is completed, they move on to study at the West German equivalent of the US Army War College, the Bundeswehrhochschule.
The Dornier corporation has long-standing ties with the Iraqi government. Only months after Iraq’s invasion of Iran, France supplied to the Iraqi air force 30 Alpha Jets jointly produced by Dornier and the French company Dessault-Breguet.
Iraq is also doing business with a Brazilian subsidiary of the West German steel and arms corporation Krupp. The subsidiary is selling armored personnel carriers to Iraq even though Iran has been a major shareholder of Krupp since the Shah’s time. This is reminiscent of Krupp’s World War I experience, when the German-owned corporation profited from the war by simultaneously equipping the German military and supplying ammunition to Germany’s enemy, England.