German foreign minister on Middle East tour to talk Iran

'We cannot just call for dialogue; we must conduct it,' Heiko Maas said

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas sits in the C-160 Transall military plane at the airport in Baghdad, Iraq, June 8, 2019. REUTERS/Sabine Seibold

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is in Iraq as he undertakes a regional tour aimed at coordinating with partners in the region over Iranian tensions.

In a statement on Saturday, Mr Maas’s office said that European nations must engage with the region at a time of heightened concern following recent US naval movements in the Gulf region.

“We cannot just call for dialogue; we must conduct it – particularly where differences appear unbridgeable and long-standing conflicts run deep. The danger that miscalculations, misunderstandings and provocations in a very tense region could lead to unpredictable consequences is clear there,” his office said.

Mr Maas’s visit was not announced ahead of time for security reasons. The foreign minister is expected in Iran on Monday. His office says Germany and Europe are determined to preserve the 2015 international nuclear accord with Iran, calling it a “key factor for stability and security in the region.”

As well as the issue of Iran, where Iraq has tried to balance its important relationship with both Washington and Tehran, Mr Maas is likely to discuss business cooperation.

Iraq is courting tens of billions of dollars in foreign investment to rebuild its infrastructure and boost gas, oil, and electricity production, after 17 years of war.

In April, meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said German industrial giant Siemens was favoured to win a significant portion of some $14 billion (Dh 51 billion) worth of tenders to revamp the electricity sector.

Siemens already has contracts worth more than $700 million to build a power station and implement other improvements to Iraq’s failing electricity grid.

The visit comes at a time of heightened tensions as the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord last year and restored crippling sanctions on Iran. International monitors say there is no evidence that Iran is in breach of its obligations. The sanctions have squeezed Iran’s economy, causing oil exports to crash and contributing to soaring inflation.

Last month the US dispatched an aircraft carrier group and a bomber task force to the Arabian Gulf to counter what it said were threatening moves by Iran.

Four ships were hit off the coast of the UAE in what officials have called a sabotage attack that US officials have said was likely carried out by Iran – although officials in Abu Dhabi have cautioned that the full investigation must be completed before attributing any blame.

Two Saudi oil-pumping stations were also stuck by Houthi drones and a rocket landed near to the US embassy in the Iraqi capital.