Sorry c&p is usually not my style, but here it is:
As World Cup Host, Germany May Be In for a Test
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Times Staff Writer
May 18, 2006
BERLIN — The World Cup soccer championship in Germany next month will be graced by cunning moves and mesmerizing footwork, the same skills politicians will need if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shows up to root for his national team.
Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust a myth and often speaks of annihilating Israel. Expressing such sentiments is illegal in Germany, but what does a nation with a history marred by Nazism and death camps do if an anti-Semitic head of state requests a visa?
The matter is further complicated because German diplomacy is viewed as crucial in helping defuse the nuclear standoff between Iran and leading Western nations.
Rather than being a respite from politics, the World Cup is taking place under the cloud of Middle East tensions and Germany's past. Should Ahmadinejad and his entourage arrive on June 11, they would watch the Iranian team's first-round match with Mexico in Nuremberg, the city infamous for the Hitler rallies that foreshadowed World War II and the crematoriums at Auschwitz.
The symbolism is disturbing for many, even if Ahmadinejad, a devout soccer fan, has not announced plans to attend. Germans consider the Iranian president unpredictable, someone who might show up at the last minute, especially if his team advances. Lawmakers, athletes and writers are urging that he be listed as persona non grata.
Yet that is unlikely.
"Ahmadinejad can come to the games," German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said. "My advice is we should be good hosts. It's not going to be easy because he has said things we can't accept."
The monthlong soccer tournament, which begins June 9, offers host Germany a premier spot on the international stage.
A visit by Ahmadinejad would test the diplomatic deftness of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government.
The chancellor has been praised in recent months for her trips abroad, including two to Washington, and is an important voice in finding a peaceful outcome to the ongoing ill will between the West and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.
Germany is one of Iran's leading economic partners. The value of its exports to Iran jumped from about $2 billion in 2000 to about $5.6 billion in 2005, according to the Federal Statistics Office.
Berlin does not want to jeopardize this market, but the Merkel government, which is in the midst of strengthening ties with the Bush administration, is likewise opposed to Iran building a nuclear weapon and has condemned Ahmadinejad's statements against Israel.
Germans are concerned that a visit by Ahmadinejad could agitate domestic and international politics beyond the nuclear question.
There are fears that neoNazis might travel to Nuremberg in support of the Iranian leader's anti-Semitic stance and that exiled Iranian opposition groups would hold protests against his government.
A soccer game could turn into a political skirmish of skinheads and moderate Muslims, playing out under this year's World Cup motto: "A time to make friends."
The German newspaper Bild wrote recently: "Everyone is warmly welcome to the World Cup, except for one person: Iran's president. As long as the madman of Tehran denies the Holocaust, continues work on a nuclear bomb and supports terrorism, he should stay at home."
Germany's Free Democrats would also prefer that Ahmadinejad stay in Tehran and watch the game on TV.
"Of course he is not welcome," said party member Max Stadler. "It is his decision if he comes. But we should say clearly: He won't be received with enthusiasm."
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a German Green Party member of the European Parliament, said: "Ahmadinejad is a showman and he won't leave out this show in Germany. There's no justifiable way but to let him enter."