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"It would be wrong to confine the fight against terrorism to the military level alone"

In an interview with the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper published on 28 December 2015, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for a wide‑ranging strategy to dry up support for terrorism.

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Mr Steinmeier, what are your hopes for the New Year? Will it be better than this year?

If we had no hope, there would be no reason to get up in the morning. And if we look back at 2015, we see that we did in fact achieve quite a few things. In the Vienna agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme we were able to reach a peaceful solution to a conflict that had been simmering for years and to prevent Iran from gaining access to nuclear weapons. We prevented a war in Ukraine through the Minsk Protocol. IS’ advance was halted in Iraq, in part thanks to our support. And in Syria there is at least a glimmer of hope of finally putting a stop to the daily killing through talks on a ceasefire. I am under no illusions about any of these conflicts. Nothing will become easier, and it will remain a tough undertaking to find solutions. But despite that, we must not stop striving to make the world a somewhat more peaceful place in 2016.

You were in the stadium in Paris on 13 November when the IS terrorists detonated their bombs. How did you feel?

When we heard the explosion, I thought it was fireworks – I didn’t think for a moment that it could be a terrorist attack. When the security officers then informed us about the bombs that had been detonated outside the stadium and subsequently about the series of attacks all over Paris, obviously it was a shock. All sorts of thoughts go through your mind at a time like that. My greatest concern was that panic could break out in the stadium. But thanks to the great work by the French police officers, everyone was able to leave the stadium safely.

The Bundeswehr is entering the war in Syria as a reaction to the attacks in the French capital. Will this deployment boost security in Germany?

After the dreadful terrorist attacks, France requested our support. There was absolutely no doubt in our minds that naturally, we must stand together and provide assistance. And obviously, the threat from IS does not stop at Germany’s borders. That is why the answer cannot be to shut the doors, close the shutters, turn off the light and hope it will hit our neighbours whose lights are still on. This cynical strategy would neither end the civil war in Syria nor stop the terrorists from carrying out their atrocities.

Can terrorism be tackled with military means?

It would be wrong to confine the fight against terrorism to the military level alone. A wide‑ranging strategy is needed – a political, economic and social strategy. The aim of all this should be to dry up support for terrorism. This is why it is very important to rebuild the areas that have been recaptured. Along with the United Nations we helped to restore public services in Tikrit, meaning that 150,000 people could return to their homes. We also want to help with reconstruction in Sinjar and other towns that have been recaptured. And on the political level, we achieved an important step in New York with the UN Security Council resolution. What we now need to do is to achieve a ceasefire and start a phase of political transition. But the fact remains that this year IS lost a quarter of the territory it had captured as a result of the air strikes that destroyed its arms caches and equipment and of the courageous fighting by the Peshmerga. It was also thanks to the training and equipment we provided that the Peshmerga were able to drive the terrorists out of Tikrit and Sinjar.

SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel wants to put a possible deployment of German troops on the ground in Syria to a vote by party members. Does he have your support?

I am in complete agreement with Sigmar Gabriel that no German ground troops will fight against IS on Syrian territory.

Are Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia the right partners in this fight?

All of us agree that IS is a major threat and must be tackled. It is no secret that there are differences of opinions between the countries you mentioned. However, our aim must be to act in concert in order to overcome IS.

Furthermore, we have always said that we need the Islamic world in order to dry up ideological support for IS. Major Muslim powers such as Saudi Arabia have a key role to play in this. That is why it is good that the Islamic countries want to fight against terrorism together.

There are indications that “Islamic State” is using fake passports to smuggle terrorists into Europe. What does that mean for how we deal with the influx of refugees?

First of all, we should not make the mistake of lumping refugees together with alleged terrorists. Most of the attackers came from within Europe. But irrespective of that, it is important that we regain greater control over who enters and leaves Europe. The European Commission’s suggestion of expanding Frontex into a European border management agency and the agreements with Turkey are important elements in this.

Right‑wing populist and extremist parties are benefiting from the refugee crisis. What answer do the mainstream parties have?

The fact that people in Germany are worried and that they are asking themselves if we will actually be able to integrate all of the refugees arriving here is understandable. And we take this seriously.

But the sharp rise in right‑wing violence in Germany shows how dangerous it is to use the refugee issue to drum up votes. In my opinion, this violence is also a result of intellectual arson. We must oppose this in no uncertain terms. The fact that Federal Minister of Justice Heiko Maas is taking such a tough stance against online hate speech with his task force is an important response to the threat from the right wing.

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Interview conducted by Jochen Gaugele. Reproduced here by kind permission of the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper.

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