AJC: German Academic Ties to Iran Undermine Sanctions

October 22, 2012 – Berlin – AJC is deeply troubled with the new agreement between Germany’s state scholarship program DAAD and Iran’s education ministry to foster academic exchanges.

“When the European Union is tightening sanctions to protest Iran’s program to achieve nuclear-weapons capability, German universities expanding academic ties with Iran is simply counter-productive,” said Deidre Berger, director of AJC’s Berlin office. “It is naïve to think that dialogue and exchange on human rights issues with students handpicked by an authoritarian regime will contribute to more democratic structures in Iran.” 

The agreement regulates the exchange of hundreds of students each year, mostly German students studying in Iran. In addition, AJC has learned that at least three German universities already are engaged in active exchange programs on issues of religion, human rights and legal issues with Iranian universities.

“Continuing expansion of ties between German and Iranian academic institutions while Germany is participating in ever-tightening sanctions against the Iranian regime sends mixed signals to Iran and the world,” said Berger.

The University of Potsdam’s exchange program with Qom University’s Department of Religion already has generated controversy in Germany. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, an expert on Iran at the European Foundation for Democracy, has identified Qom University as a center for Iranian religious ideologues. 

Two other German universities sponsored programs in Iran last month. The Center for Global Politics at Free University of Berlin held its third “Global Politics Fall School Iran,” focusing on various perspectives of human rights. Klaus Segbers, Professor of International Relations at the university’s Otto-Suhr-Institute for Political Science, pointed out to AJC Berlin that the program aims at an open discussion between the future elites of the two countries. And, the University of Göttingen Law School held its “Dialogue of Legal Cultures” seminar, focusing on issues of family law, in Iran.

“Dialogue can be enlightening but, sadly, there can be little benefit engaging in a grossly asymmetrical discussion with designated representatives of a repressive regime about issues of religion, human rights and legal issues,” said Berger. “The Iranian people can best be helped by isolating a regime that menaces its neighbors and threatens regional security.”

Last week AJC urged the EU to cancel a planned visit to Iran by a group of European parliamentarians. The visit would undermine sanctions by signaling a business-as-usual approach.

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