"Diplomacy calls for perseverance"

Interview by Foreign Minister Steinmeier about the fight against the IS terrorists, German-Polish relations and Turkey’s role in protecting the EU’s external borders. Published in the Super Illu magazine on 7 January 2016.

2015 was a turbulent year in politics. Do you expect this year to be any quieter?

Never in my political career have I witnessed as many crises as now – Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, flight and displacement – and I fear this coming year will see no let up. But it is precisely when the crises are so acute and the conflicts so entrenched that we practitioners of diplomacy must have perseverance and hold on to the belief that we can tip things towards peace through our negotiations, albeit slowly, step by step.

How many of the decisions that you have to take are influenced by your personal convictions?

All of them! How am I meant to convince others of my positions if I doubt them myself? That wouldn’t work. But this mustn’t mean that you stick to your position at all costs, and aren’t able to compromise. What I personally am always looking for are solutions that will move us forward. We’ve been criticised so often for negotiating with Putin or reaching out to Iran, because of the talks with Russia to try to settle the Ukraine conflict and the negotiations with Iran to end the dispute about its nuclear programme. But if we hadn’t talked to them, there might now be a war in Ukraine and Iran might have become a nuclear power.

Polls show that the German people are increasingly worried about threats from within Germany.

I can well understand that people are anxious in the light of all the reported crises around the world. We take their worries seriously, of course, and are working day and night to ensure that the current crises are contained and no new ones emerge. Diplomatic successes are often invisible. A crisis that has been avoided rarely makes the headlines. What is clear is that we must not give the terrorists and fearmongers the satisfaction of scaring us and taking away from us our open societies and our way of life.

How hopeful are you that the peace process in Syria will permanently weaken IS?

There are many actors in Syria with widely diverging interests. But they all agree on one thing. IS is a threat not just to the Near and Middle East, but to the whole world. Only if we pull together and find a joint political solution to the conflict in Syria will we be able to successfully fight the terrorists.

Poland has elected rightwing conservatives, the EU has addressed sharp words to Warsaw. Anti-German voices can be heard.

Poland and Germany are partners and friends – and have been for more than 25 years. For this reason – and because our countries have become ever more closely aligned over this time in all areas – this friendship stands on a firm foundation. And as Germans we really should be reluctant to point fingers in public. But that doesn’t mean we’re not critical.

Will Turkey be reliable as regards the orderly admission of refugees into the EU?

If we want to properly channel and ultimately limit the influx of refugees, we need to coordinate closely with Turkey. We have to better protect the EU’s external borders and agree on contingents – but we will not have any success on various fronts without the support of such an important partner country as Turkey. That is why the EU Joint Action Plan with Turkey is such a vital element.

This interview was conducted by Marc Kayser. Reproduced by kind permission of Super Illu magazine.

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