Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel talks to the Aachener Zeitung about North Korea’s nuclear policy, the relationship with the Trump Administration, relations with Turkey, and the conflict with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Published on 31 August 2017.
Minister Gabriel, who is politically more unpredictable right now: US President Donald Trump, or Russian President Vladimir Putin?
The truly unpredictable leader, as we’ve seen clearly again in recent days, is the dictator in North Korea, Kim Jong‑un. The man has his finger on the nuclear button and is threatening an entire region. It needs to be said that war on the Korean peninsula would be truly devastating. In a worst case scenario, it could kill more people than died in World War II. But to get back to your question: Of course, much trust has been lost in our relationship with Russia in recent years, for example through the illegal annexation of Crimea. And, yes, some of the tweets from the White House have raised eyebrows. But ranking leaders in this way will not help.
Quite the opposite – we need to know what we ourselves want. For example, it is our aim that fighting in eastern Ukraine will cease and that true progress will finally be made on implementing the Minsk agreements. Just as we want the entire international community to fully and strictly implement the sanctions on North Korea, so that Pyongyang decides to change course.
Meanwhile, some US Members of Congress are questioning whether Trump is fit for office. I know that, as Foreign Minister, you must exercise diplomatic restraint. But do you think the fear of many Germans is justified that Trump may overreact in a crisis and actually start a war? He has made threats to this effect.
This is about the cohesion, and future, of the West. I’m not speaking in terms of geography. I’m talking about the West as a community of values based on freedom, democracy, the rule of law, tolerance and openness – also on economic issues. I’m worried that the West may permanently lose the United States. Some people close to Donald Trump want to replace the strength of the law with the law of the strong. We must stand up for what we believe in.
This is all the more important because, for us Europeans, the United States is our most important ally.
What does this mean in terms of Germany’s foreign policy, and specifically for relations with the US?
We must neither give up and turn away from, nor show a cold shoulder to the US. Rather, we must try to engage in dialogue and cooperation. That’s why, only a few days ago, I took what was already my third trip to the United States.
I have a very good relationship with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that’s built on mutual confidence. In view of the many crises in the world, the time for diplomacy has truly come. The US and Europe must work together very closely when it comes to tackling any of the issues, whether it be North Korea, Iran, Russia and Ukraine, or Afghanistan.
Do you unequivocally support the SPD candidate for Chancellor Martin Schulz’s demand that the US must withdraw its remaining nuclear weapons from Germany? If so, why has this not happened yet? In 2010, the Bundestag already called on the German Government to take the action that is needed for this.
Martin Schulz is absolutely right that we must finally reopen the debate on arms control and disarmament. Renowned experts have warned that we are currently repeating the worst mistakes that were made during the Cold War. We’re heading into a Cold War 2.0. All nuclear disarmament and arms control treaties concluded by Gorbachev and Reagan are in grave danger. Europe again faces the threat of having to host large numbers of nuclear missiles. It is wrong for Ms Merkel to remain silent on this issue. Germany in particular must raise its voice in objection. We must remain a force for peace, and we must work to prevent an arms race. That’s why I thought Martin Schulz was right to say that one of the aims must be to get rid of the nuclear weapons that are in our country.
I want to ask you about Putin. You recently made several trips to Moscow. During one of these visits, you are reported to have met for dinner with former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and President Putin. The Greens and the CDU are criticising this meeting. Can you see their point?
It goes without saying that I, as German Foreign Minister, can meet for talks with the Russian President. In fact, people should criticise me if I didn’t. I personally think the criticism being directed at Gerhard Schröder is insincere. It’s not right to first want to use Gerhard Schröder’s good contacts for your own benefit and then to blast him when it’s to your political advantage. I’m not the only one who sees this as opportunism.
A few days ago you were personally insulted by members of the Turkish Government. Is the tone in the international arena getting more aggressive and harsh?
Candour is part and parcel of foreign policy. That said, the tirades coming from Turkey are unprecedented for a NATO Ally and a European partner, and they’ve quite frankly left me dumbfounded.
That’s why I think it’s so important for us to differentiate between Turkey and Erdogan. Many in Turkey, too, have critical views of him. So we’ve very clearly told the Turkish Government: We will carefully and effectively re‑align our policies vis‑à‑vis Turkey.
How can Germany and Turkey mend fences?
Currently, it’s hard to see any bridges that can be built, because the Turkish Government is doing everything it can to burn down any connections it has with us and with Europe. Nevertheless, we are prepared to engage in dialogue, if Ankara changes its policies.
But a precondition for this is that those Germans who are being detained in Turkey on outlandish accusations must be given fair legal proceedings and released.
The interview was conducted by Joachim Zinsen.