| BERLIN, Sept 30
BERLIN, Sept 30 German Economy Minister Sigmar
Gabriel heads to Iran next week with a planeful of industry
executives keen to rebuild trade ties, but remaining U.S.
sanctions and political concerns are holding back a hoped-for
Gabriel says a German-Iranian business commission will meet
for the first time in 15 years, and forecasts concrete business
deals will be announced, but he has also said Tehran must accept
Israel's right to exist and stop military support for Syria's
President Bashar al-Assad in order to normalise ties.
He is making his second visit to Tehran since the Islamic
Republic reached a deal with world powers in July last year to
lift economic sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear
programme, in return for curbs on its nuclear activities.
Industrial giant Siemens AG and automaker Daimler
will be among the first German firms to benefit from
opportunities in Iran, but they are proceeding carefully and
only after legal reviews.
Exports to Iran jumped 15 percent in the first half of the
year to 1.13 billion euros and could reach 4 bln euros in the
full year, said Michael Tockuss, head of the Hamburg-based
German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce.
He cited signs of movement in the German banking sector,
which has been reluctant to underwrite business deals for fear
of running foul of remaining U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran for
what Washington says is Tehran's money laundering, support for
terrorism and human rights abuses.
"Economic cooperation won't perform miracles but it can open
up countries and stimulate societal change," Gabriel, who leads
the Social Democrats, junior partner in the ruling centre-right
coalition, told the online site weekly magazine Der Spiegel.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a fellow Social
Democrat, in February invited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
to visit Germany.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, anxious
about managing ties with two fierce Iran foes, Saudi Arabia and
Israel, oppose a state visit now.
NO "RED CARPET" FOR ROUHANI FOR NOW
"Rolling out the red carpet for Rouhani in Europe could be
misunderstood as a signal that Iran is already an accepted
partner in the world community," said Juergen Hardt, foreign
policy spokesman for Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and
their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
Hardt said he expected Gabriel to hammer home Germany's
concerns about Iran's support for Assad's "terror regime" in
Syria, its "unspeakable" anti-Israeli rhetoric and human rights
abuses in Iran.
Ilse Aigner, economy minister of the German state of
Bavaria, says she raised those concerns during two visits to
Iran over the past year, but says hardliners could oust Rouhani
unless he produces tangible benefits from the nuclear deal.
Aigner returned from Tehran earlier this month with
agreements by three Iranian banks to open branches in Munich,
which she says could smooth the way for more trade and
investment in coming years.
One big issue for small- and medium-sized firms is the
inability to secure letters of credit for shipments of goods,
said Werner Schroeppel, managing director of IMO GmbH, which
exports components for wind energy facilities in Iran.
Schroeppel's firm is now using third parties to do business
in Iran, but hopes the process can be streamlined so it can take
part in an expected boom in Iran's wind energy sector.
"The sanctions have been dropped, but the tools what we need
to do business successfully are still not there," he said.
The Europaeische-Iranische Handelsbank AG in Hamburg offers
such instruments already, but Germany's two biggest banks,
Commerzbank AG and Deutsche Bank AG say
they remain cautious.
Michael Sabet, an Iranian-German business executive whose
company imports tonnes of saffron from Iran, is upbeat that more
banks are ready to provide letters of credit which he said could
save up to 3 percent of the cost of a deal.
"The situation is easing," he said. "We used to have to wait
three to four months to get approval. Nowadays its just a phone
call and some documents to exchange and that's it."
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Dominic Evans)