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“Assad has gone too far”

Foreign Minister Westerwelle calls for regime change in Syria,and expresses concern for the protection of the country’s Christian minority.He stands by a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, andalso discusses the Iranian nuclear programme and the European Union.This interview was published in the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper on 14 January 2013.

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Mr Westerwelle, the civil war in Syria is escalating, and at the same time ruler Bashar al Assad is showing no willingness to change course.Hasn’t the time come to do more than issue warnings?

We want to accelerate the process of the regime’s erosion, and we’re working on this at several levels. Germany is taking part in the international isolation of Syria and the international sanctions, and it’s supporting the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

UN negotiator Brahimi has said that Assad can’t be involved in an interim solution.

This is the right response to Assad’s bellicose speech a few days ago, which showed that he doesn’t grasp the situation. A peaceful and democratic fresh start is no longer possible with this president. It’s too late now for a “Yemeni solution” (the formation of a transitional government while the current ruler remains in the country, Ed.). Assad has gone too far.

The Syrian Christian community, some of whose members are seen as Assad supporters, could be in a dangerous situation if Islamists gain the upper hand.How can the protection of Christians be improved?

I, like US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have insisted that the opposition groups not only unite but also take a democratic and pluralistic approach. Sunnites, Alawis, Christians and Shiites all need to be included. The National Coalition has agreed to this.

But there are already reports of attacks on Christians...

Protecting Christians is a key priority for German foreign policy. I cannot verify everything that’s being said on this topic. We should be cautious here. We’re pursuing two goals: making a democratic and pluralistic fresh start possible for Syria and preventing the conflict from spilling over into the rest of the region.

Would Germany take part in a NATO mission in Syria?

Germany is taking part in neither speculation about or preparations for any sort of intervention in Syria.

Is that your final word?

As I’ve just said, I’m not going to speculate. There’s no reason to do so.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians also remains unresolved.One of your predecessors, Joschka Fischer, said recently that the two-state solution as a model for peace is on its way out.Is that so?

This claim may well draw attention in the academic world, but it would be wrong to give up on a two-state solution. German foreign policy works in coordination with international partners and the EU towards a two-state solution which is to be reached through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2013 we need to have another go at direct talks between the two sides.

If Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank as it has said it plans to, that could destroy the territorial conditions necessary for a Palestinian state.Surely that can’t be acceptable.

This is another reason to stand by the two-state solution: in order to hold all parties to their responsibilities. We too have criticized Israel’s settlement policy. Above all, however, we’re critical of and deeply offended by the hate speeches of Hamas representatives who’ve denied Israel’s right to exist.

Are you concerned about the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme escalating into a military conflict?

We share President Obama’s view that a political and diplomatic solution needs to be worked out. The sanctions are taking effect. This shows that there’s a chance for a negotiated solution. A nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat not only to Israel but also to the whole world, and would destabilize the global security architecture.

Europe is no Shangri La.European Social Commissioner László Andor has warned of a growing rift between north and south. What can be done to combat this?

You can’t solve the debt crisis by making it easier to accumulate debt, for example through eurobonds. I’ve warned against breaking off the necessary processes of reform and consolidation. We’re helping Greece and Spain so they won’t face permanent high unemployment. The German people have shown exemplary solidarity by taking on guarantees in sums amounting to the total federal budget.

How long can Europe continue to watch from the sidelines when every other young person in Greece and Spain is unemployed?

You shouldn’t watch from the sidelines at all. But you can’t create new jobs through new debt. What’s needed are reforms in the areas of education, infrastructure and energy. The German model of dual-track vocational training is an export hit around the world.

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Interview by Winfried Züfle.Reproduced by kind permission of the Augsburger Allgemeine. Link:

www.augsburger-allgemeine.de

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