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No way back for the Assad regime

The dominant theme during Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s most recent visit to the Middle East was the situation in Syria. In an interview with the Welt am Sonntag weekly given on 10 June he talks about the chances of success of the Annan peace plan and possible ways to end the bloodshed.

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Foreign Minister, has the Annan peace plan for Syriafailed?

Kofi Annan’s plan is still the best basis for a political solution. But no one can deny that implementing the plan has failed so far. Together we must give the Annan plan more weight.

How can that be achieved? You have already suggested possible measures under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations...

Kofi Annan has ascertained that the violence in Syria is continuing and that both sides are responsible. But he has also said that the responsibility lies in the first instance and predominantly with the Assad regime.

That could and should make the Russian Government rethink its stance again and support the implementation of a non-military solution in the Security Council involving the threat of sanctions.

Does that also apply to Article 42 of Chapter VII, which would allow military measures in the case of non-compliance?

The Federal Government will not join in speculation about military intervention, not least because to do so would reduce the chance of a political solution, a chance which still exists, even if it has lessened.

Do you see any sign that Moscowmight reconsider its position?

I have the impression that Russia too is considering the possibility of a process of transition.

In other words, there will be no future for Syriawith Assad?

There is a feeling, one shared by the many people I talked to during my recent trip to the region, that the Assad regime has gone too far and has lost all legitimacy.

So a Yemeni solution would mean Assad’s resignation and exile, as happened with Yemeni head of state Saleh.But in that case the whole apparatus built up by Assad to support him would still be there…

There’s no perfect solution. In a difficult situation which is potentially explosive for the whole region, we are choosing from options of which – all our partners are agreed – the political solution is by far the best. Kofi Annan’s work is decisive here. By not giving up in our efforts to get Russia on board we are most certainly steering in the right direction.

Because Russia holds the biggest key for resolving the crisis. What I’d like to say to all those who believe military intervention would be a quick solution is this: there is a great danger of the flames spreading throughout the region.

My trip to Lebanon confirms me in my growing concern that the grave crisis in Syria might spill over not only into Lebanon but also into other neighbouring states. We must prevent that.

Russiawants Iranto be involved in the search for a solution.The United Statescategorically rejects that.What is your view?

My advice is that we should first wait for Kofi Annan’s proposals. I welcome every step that takes us closer to a political solution. What matters in the end is what we can achieve by political means. It goes without saying that Syria’s neighbours have an important role to play.

Is Moscowreally only concerned with strategic interests – in other words, its naval base in the Syrian portof Tartuson the Mediterranean– or is it a throwback to the Libyatrauma?

It has many motives. Obviously free access to the Mediterranean is one of them. But Moscow is also arguing that the West intervened militarily in Libya, pretending to want to protect the civilian population, but actually in order to topple the regime there. Even if we don’t share this view, we do still have to take it seriously.

Although Russia says it is not backing Assad, the Assad regime obviously believes it is. And Russia rightly points out that there are forces in Syria which are not part of the democratic opposition, but seek to spread terror. These forces are not aiming for peaceful political change.

You mean radical Islamist fighters who have slipped into the country from neighbouring Iraq, for instance?

Radical forces, fanatics, violent Islamists who want to use terrorism to seize power.

Your recent trip also took you to the Gulf.where impatience is growing in light of the fact that “Sunni brothers” are dying in Syriaevery day.So far, Saudi Arabiaand Qatarhave not struck out alone.But how long will that remain the case?

It is true that unrest and understandable indignation are growing, particularly in the Arab states. But the Arab League too continues to press for a political solution. It wouldn’t be a good idea to fix deadlines just now. You have to be careful not to give rise to expectations you cannot fulfil. Despite this, it’s true to say time isn’t just moving on – it’s racing!

So how does the international community intend to get closer to a solution in Syria?

The most important thing now is to evaluate the Annan report quickly and implement it with fresh, constructive energy in order to bring about a political solution. This route is a difficult one, frustrating and time-consuming too. And it will involve setbacks. But it is no doubt the right approach.

Anyone calling for military intervention right now needs to know the risks it would involve. Even now, there is a real risk that the crisis might extend to the region. The danger of a regional proxy war is a very serious one, and something I am profoundly concerned about. Anyone who gives up working for a political solution is giving up on the people in Syria, which we absolutely must not do.

 

Interview: Dietrich Alexander. Reproduced by kind permission of Welt am Sonntag.

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