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Review of the State Visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Austria

Published: July 5, 2018; 16:41 · (Vindobona)

After the visit in March 2016, which was cancelled at short notice, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was on a state visit to Vienna this week, accompanied by massive anti-Iran protests. The aim of the visit was a joint commitment to the Iran nuclear deal after the deal was approved in Vienna three years ago. The visit was overshadowed by a diplomatic case involving an employee of the Iranian embassy in Vienna, who had been arrested last weekend by the German judicial authorities on the basis of a European arrest warrant on suspicion of terrorism.

After Rouhani's meetings with Van der Bellen and Kurz there were press statements, but questions were not allowed. / Picture: © Österreichische Präsidentschaftskanzlei / Peter Lechner/HBF

The Iranian President was received on Wednesday morning by the Federal President with military honours. Demonstrators of "Stop the Bomb" were banished to the other side of the ring because of the extensive ban on the use of space and described it as "questionable in terms of democratic politics" to be outside Rouhani's sight and hearing range. "We consider it fatal that the red carpet is being rolled out for this regime," Stop-the-Bomb representative Stephan Grigat told APA. According to the Stop-the-Bomb slogan, he described Rouhani as "the friendly face of terror" and demanded the overthrow of the Iranian regime.

This was followed by a meeting with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Kurz emphasized in a press appearance with Rouhani that Austria has a very special responsibility regarding Israel due to its history. In our view, it is unacceptable for Israel's right to exist to be called into question or for Israel to be destroyed. The security of Israel is not negotiable for us as the Republic of Austria. Rouhani recalled events thousands of years old. We Iranians saved the Jews in Babylon. They have a debt to us. The Iranians have good relations with Jews all over the world. Zionists, on the other hand, who oppress the people in the Gaza Strip, for example, as "occupying groups and oppressors", he criticized. The Israeli government even supports the Islamic state in Syria and has a destructive role in the region.

After Rouhani's meetings with Van der Bellen and Kurz there were press statements, but questions were not allowed.

Van der Bellen described the nuclear deal as a "key element in the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons". With regard to the US criticism of the agreement, he said: "The nuclear agreement was never meant to solve all the problems in our relations with Iran. We believe that the nuclear agreement with Iran has opened a window to address other important issues."

As Kurz later emphasised, Van der Bellen also stressed the need for a dialogue with Iran, with which Austria has a history of centuries together.

To confirm this, Foreign Ministers Mohammad Javad Zarif and Karin Kneissl opened an exhibition in the Austrian Academy of Sciences (AAS) this afternoon to mark the 160th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vienna and Tehran. A Memorandum of Understanding to deepen cooperation in the field of research was also solemnly signed there.

The last stop of the visit was the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, where the Iranian President wanted to give a speech on economic relations. Kurz was pleased in the press appearance with Rouhani that the bilateral trade volume of 300 million euros in the previous year had again reached the level before the sanctions were imposed. Mr Van der Bellen noted that economic relations should not only be maintained, but even deepened, despite the US sanctions in force from August, which also threaten Austrian companies.

In terms of substance, Rouhani made the expected clear commitment to the nuclear deal. "If the other signatories can ensure Iran's interests, Iran will continue with the JCPOA without the US," Rouhani said after the meeting with Van der Bellen. "Provided that we can also benefit from this," he continued with a view to the required economic advantages.

It became known over the weekend that an Iranian diplomat at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna allegedly obtained explosives for an alleged attack on an assembly of thousands of exiled Iranians in Paris. The employee is Mr. Assadollah Assadi, Third Counselor since June 23, 2014, and on Tuesday the Foreign Ministry announced that the diplomat's official status had been revoked. Foreign Minister Zarif spoke of a "peculiar plot under a false flag", that is, a plot that should "practically" be put in the shoes of Iran on the occasion of Rouhani's visit to Europe.

Unlike the Federal President, the Chancellor addressed this case in his statement and was pleased that Rouhani had assured him that he "would support the Enlightenment".

A meeting of the foreign ministers of the five remaining contracting parties will take place in Vienna on Friday.