Austrian authorities were left scratching their heads after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani cancelled a trip to Vienna at the last minute. EURACTIV Germany reports.
After the Iranian nuclear deal was successfully finalised last autumn, Austrian President Heinz Fischer was the first European head of state to visit Tehran and a return visit was in the offing. In fact, Rouhani had planned an itinerary that would take in three capitals: Baghdad, Brussels and Vienna.
A visit to the EU capital is no longer on the cards, and Baghdad is not on the agenda either. Now, a few hours before he was scheduled to arrive in the Austrian capital, the visit was cancelled due to supposed “security concerns”. The decision surprised the Austrian authorities as there have been no signs in the Alpine republic that there are any increased safety risks, despite the attacks carried out in Brussels last week.
Foreign ministry sources suggested that anti-Iranian demonstrations planned for Vienna during the visit may have contributed to the decision to cancel. Indeed, in recent days the interior ministry had received numerous applications for protest marches, which caused the city’s authorities to plan roadblocks to manage the demonstrators.
Some Austrian newspapers reported that Tehran had asked the Austrian government to cancel all of the protests, a request that Vienna reportedly denied.
Austria’s Jewish community was one of the loudest detractors to criticise the planned visit. Its President, Oskar Deutsch, denounced the Middle Eastern country’s human rights record and history of repression and said that this should have been reason enough for President Fischer to withdraw Rouhani’s invitation. He also mentioned Iran’s execution policy, which saw 753 people killed last year and 200 killed this year already, making it the country with the most executions per capita in the world.
The Viennese visit had a significant economic dimension to it, given that 100 Iranian entrepeneurs have already arrived in the capital for an economic forum planned for Thursday (31 March). Additionally, the head of Iran’s national bank is in Vienna to negotiate the release of Iranian funds from Austrian bank accounts, previously frozen, and estimated to be worth some €4 billion.
Neither Austria nor Iran provided a new date for Rouhani’s visit, although Tehran did say that the cancellation was made in order to allow “better planning and coordination from both sides”.