By Patrick Goodenough
(CNSNews.com) – As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tries to get European allies aboard an effort to deter Iranian aggression following the attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, the German government took part in a conference in Berlin Thursday focused on promoting trade with Iran despite U.S. sanctions.
The U.S. Embassy in Berlin, which earlier in the week criticized the planned event, said on Twitter Thursday, “Fact: The German government chose to participate in an Iranian business promotion conference, less than a week after the regime’s attack on civilian oil infrastructure.”
“The Iranian regime diverts resources from its people to finance the IRGC,” it added, in reference to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
Participants in the two-day conference in Berlin, according to the program, included the director-general for economic affairs at the Federal Foreign Office, and a director of the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority, a banking oversight body that falls under the Federal Ministry of Finance.
Also on the program were newly-arrived Iranian ambassador to Germany Mahmoud Farazandeh, a prominent lawmaker from the socialist The Left party, and a senior official in the European Union’s foreign affairs division responsible for sanctions policy.
Banking sector participants included the managing director of the Hamburg division of Bank Melli Iran, an institution placed under U.S. sanctions in 2007 for providing banking services to the IRGC and its foreign operations unit, Qods Force, and to “entities involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”
(The sanctions were lifted under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal but reimposed last year, when the U.S. Treasury Department said that “the equivalent of billions of dollars in funds have flowed through IRGC-QF controlled accounts at Bank Melli.”)
The eighth Banking and Business Forum Iran Europe was organized by the Maleki Corporate Group, a business consulting company whose CEO is Iranian-born.
A press release on the event noted that trade between Europe and Iran in the first half of this year dropped by 76 percent, and said that only through “trade and détente” could the JCPOA nuclear deal be saved, following the U.S. withdrawal last year.
Earlier in the week, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell in a statement called the conference “a dangerous move that will fund terrorism and undermine U.S. sanctions.”
“Iran perpetuates gross human rights abuses against its own citizens, has planned and carried out terror attacks and assassinations on European soil, and is facilitating Assad’s war crimes in Syria,” he said. “Now is not the time to promote business deals that will only send euros to the regime’s coffers at the expense of the Iranian people.”
The Iranian regime denies U.S. and Saudi accusations that it was behind last Saturday’s drone and cruise missile attack on a Saudi oil processing plant and oilfields. European countries, noting that Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, have generally adopted a wait-and-see approach.
Asked as he flew home from the Gulf Thursday if he has “a slam-dunk case to bring to the U.N. next week,” Pompeo replied, “I think it’s abundantly clear and there is an enormous consensus in the region that we know precisely who conducted these attacks. It was Iran. I didn’t hear anybody in the region who doubted that for a single moment.”
He did not mention Europe.
Outside the Berlin hotel where the Iran trading conference is being held, several civil society and exiled Iranian groups protested against an event which one organizing group, Stop the Bomb, described as an attempt to normalize relationships with a “misogynist, antisemitic regime.”
“The conference on boosting business with Iran seems to be a special reward for the terror that is currently being inflicted by the Iranian regime in the region,” said spokeswoman Ulrike Becker.
“The German answer to this terror is always more trade and dialogue,” she said. “However, this policy does not make the regime more moderate, but encourages it in its aggressive course.”
Stop the Bomb is a non-governmental organization campaigning for “a nuclear-free and democratic Iran.”
As he flew to Saudi Arabia earlier this week for consultations about the oil infrastructure attacks, Pompeo had said he was working with regional and European partners on ways to deter Iranian aggression.
“My mission here is to work with our partners in the region,” he told reporters before landing in Jeddah. “We will be working with our European partners as well. I’ve spoken to, I think all of them at least once or twice.”
“We are working to build out a coalition to develop a plan to deter them,” he said of the Iranians. “And this is what needs to happen.”