German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas traveled to Iran this week in an effort to save the international nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers in 2015. His trip drew widespread coverage and criticism in Iran, with the country's press saying the EU has been ineffective when it comes to granting sanctions relief in exchange for Iran's compliance with the terms of the agreement.
While media outlets close to President Hassan Rouhani's government mildly criticized positions taken by Maas, conservative newspapers attacked almost every statement and position of "Europe's envoy" harshly.
Read more: Why Germany can't concede too much to Iran
Looking at the Iranian press, what grabs the most attention was a cartoon published by the ultraconservative Javan newspaper, an outlet close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It depicts Maas with blue Star of David glasses, donning a swastika armband and performing a Nazi salute.
"The stinking leftovers of Nazism and fascism have manifested themselves in the spirit of the weakest Europe in history," the paper wrote in an accompanying editorial.
In a similarly harsh tone, Javan questioned why Maas was allowed to travel to Iran in the first place. The EU "sent its envoy to Iran to say 'Europe cannot act without America's approval,'" the paper complained. "So what's the point of this trip after all?"
The newspaper not only criticized what it called "Europe's failure" to fulfill obligations as part of the nuclear deal, but also lashed out at the German foreign minister's statement defending Israel's right to exist. "Supporting Israel and our close friendship with them are undebatable. They are part of the principles and convictions of Germany's government and cannot be changed. This is a responsibility that history has given us and I will not change this principle in Tehran," Maas was quoted as saying during his speech on Monday.
Maas' trip and statements attracted criticism from another leading ultraconservative daily Kayhan. The newspaper claimed that a "significant number of German parliament seats are held by non-German Zionists." It also called the German approach toward what it described as the "illegitimate and childlike regime" of Israel as "degrading" and "nothing but slavery."
The paper also complained that Maas was "arrogant and impolite" in the way he interacted with Iranian officials.
Kayhan went beyond criticizing the German minister, though. It also lambasted a correspondent of Germany's Bild newspaper, who asked a question about the persecution faced by the LGBT community in Iran. The Iranian daily wrote: "Bild's reporter, as a representative of the German media, asked our foreign minister a shameless question: 'Why doesn't Iran respect homosexual acts?'"
Managing the crisis?
Conservative newspapers in Iran have consistently opposed the international nuclear deal, which Iran struck with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany in 2015.
Although the deal enjoys the support of newspapers that are close to the government of President Hassan Rouhani, they too criticized the German foreign minister's position on the Iran deal, albeit in a milder tone.
Arman, a reformist newspaper, titled its article, "We cannot preform miracles," words that it noted were part of the final statement of the German minister. "The German foreign minister's statements showed that he came to Iran with nothing in hand. Europe is trying to manage a crisis in the region, but is unable to compensate for its shortcomings and weaknesses," Hamidreza Assefi, a former spokesperson for Iran's foreign ministry, wrote in a commentary for the paper. "Germany has cooperated with US President Donald Trump's administration in every possible way," Assefi continued.
During his visit to Iran, Maas acknowledged that the economic benefits Tehran hoped for from the nuclear deal were now "more difficult to obtain" but urged Iran to fully respect the agreement. It is in Iran's "political and strategic interest to maintain this agreement and the dialogue with Europe", he said.