German president under fire for message to Iran

Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier came under fire over a congratulatory telegram sent to Iran on the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, with a Jewish community leader on Monday joining a chorus of criticism.

German president under fire for message to Iran
Steinmeier in Halle in Saxony-Anhalt on Monday. Photo: DPA

Taking aim at Steinmeier for failing to include criticisms of the Islamic
regime in the message, Josef Schuster, who heads Germany's Central Council of Jews, said that “routine diplomacy appears to have overtaken critical thinking”.

“It is incomprehensible that sensitivity was missing in the topic of Iran in the president's office,” Schuster told Bild daily.

“If it was necessary to send congratulations on this anniversary, then the
president should have at least found some clear words criticising the regime,” he added.

Human Rights Watch's director for Germany, Wenzel Michalski, has also
called the message “shocking”.

The foreign policy chief of the business-friendly FDP party, Frank Mueller-Rosentritt, said the telegram must have felt like a “resounding slap
in the face for our friends in Israel who are exposed to constant threats of
annihilation by Iran”.

The telegram has not been made public by the president's office. But Bild
last week quoted excerpts of the message, which it said included Steinmeier's promise to do all in his power to implement the nuclear deal on limiting Tehran's atomic programme.

The newspaper said however that there was no mention of Tehran's backing of Hamas and Hezbollah in the message.

At the government's weekly briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said there had been a “misunderstanding”.

“To our knowledge, the president did not send congratulations for the anniversary of the Islamic revolution. His congratulations were on the occasion of Iran's national day celebrations. Both days fall on the same day.

“It is common practice for states that have diplomatic relations to send
congratulations on national day celebrations,” Breul said on Friday.

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German President Steinmeier receives AstraZeneca jab

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday received the first dose of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, just two days after authorities recommended use of the controversial jab only for people aged 60 and over.

German President Steinmeier receives AstraZeneca jab
Steinmeier received the vaccine Berlin's Military Hospital on Thursday. Photo: DPA

“I trust the vaccines authorised in Germany,” Steinmeier, 65, said in a statement after getting inoculated at Berlin’s Military Hospital.

“Vaccinating is the decisive step on the path out of the pandemic. Use the opportunities available. Join in!” he added.

German officials have been at pains to shore up public confidence in AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has been on a rollercoaster ride in Europe.

Germany’s STIKO vaccine commission on Tuesday said it recommended use of the jab only for people 60 and older following concerns over several blood clotting cases among younger recipients of the vaccine.

People under the age of 60 can still take AstraZeneca in consultation with their doctor and if they are fully aware of the potential risks.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why has Germany restricted the use of AstraZeneca in under 60s?

German Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is 40 years old, told reporters Thursday that he would be willing to take AstraZeneca “when it’s my turn”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has also said she is up for the Anglo-Swedish company’s vaccine when it is her turn.

Efforts to talk up the jab’s effectiveness among elderly people were undermined by 71-year-old Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who told the topselling Bild daily he had no plans to take AstraZeneca.

“The answer to Jens Spahn’s appeal (to the elderly) is no,” Seehofer said, adding that he had nothing against AstraZeneca but didn’t want to be “patronised”.

Several other countries, including France, Spain and Canada, have also imposed age limits on the AstraZeneca shot over the occurrence of rare but very severe blood clots.

The European Medicines Agency on Wednesday said experts probing links between AstraZeneca’s vaccine and the rare reports of clotting have found no specific risk factors, but are investigating further.

The World Health Organization has also said that the AstraZeneca shot is safe.

READ ALSO: AstraZeneca vaccine ‘safe and effective’ against Covid-19, European Medical Agency concludes