Germany declares an intention to re-establish its ties with Iran

FRANKFURT — Germany has announced that it wants to re-establish ties with Iran.

The announcement came as Russia categorically denied media reports in Israel that it is helping Iran develop ballistic missiles.

Statements by top German officials came in response to an offer last week by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi to reopen contacts with the European Union.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl told reporters the changes going on in Tehran could not be ignored.

"We should deal more openly with the apparently more liberal new government" in Iran, he said, referring to the new, relatively moderate Iranian Cabinet that was sworn in last month.

In May, Mohammed Khatami, who is considered more of a moderate than his predecessors, won a landslide victory in Iran's presidential elections.

He ran on a platform of increased domestic liberalization. But it is unknown whether he would change the country's policies — which have been hostile toward its enemies, the United States and Israel, for nearly two decades.

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel has suggested a meeting between Iranian and E.U. officials this month when the U.N. General Assembly convenes in New York.

All E.U. member states except Greece recalled their ambassadors from Tehran in March after a German court ruled that Iran had ordered the 1992 killings of Iranian dissidents in Berlin.

Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran at the time to protest the German court ruling, which demonstrators called "an Israeli-American plot."

Israeli and U.S. officials have repeatedly criticized the E.U. policy of a "critical dialogue" with Iran, arguing that a country involved in terrorist activities should be diplomatically isolated.

European officials, however, maintain that an open dialogue can be an effective policy tool with Iran.

Germany and other European countries have also seen economic benefits from their continued trade with the Islamic republic.

In Russia, meanwhile, officials deny that they are providing Iran with sophisticated military technology.

Israel Television last week alleged that Russia is helping Iran develop guidance and delivery systems for long-distance missiles and has provided Iran with the know-how to make missile warheads.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a strong letter of protest to Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov over the missile aid, the television report said.

The report also indicated that Russian SS-4 missiles under development in Iran could be used to strike targets in Israel and the Persian Gulf.

U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said last week that the U.S. government was taking the reports of Russian aid to Iranian missile programs "very seriously."

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman countered that an official investigation had found the reports to be false.

Russian military contracts with Iran are thought to be worth as much as $1 billion.

The Russian government has told the United States that it will carry out all its existing contractual obligations before 1999, after which it will not sign any new contracts.

In April, Russia and Iran signed an agreement on export controls that the Russian Foreign Ministry described as "confirmation that both nations are committed to the norms of the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery."