Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier attended the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels on Monday (14 December). The conflicts in Syria and Libya were on the agenda. Steinmeier emphasised that he is also hoping for a timely de‑escalation in Turkey’s relations with Russia and Iraq as we do not need any more conflicts in the region. The Ministers also discussed the Eastern Partnership.
At the foreign ministers meeting on Libya in Rome on Sunday, a further step was taken towards establishing a government of national unity, as Steinmeier underscored in Brussels. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, the Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Foreign Minister Steinmeier reported back to the Foreign Affairs Council about the meeting on Monday.
The German Foreign Minister called it an “encouraging meeting” as a large part of the various Libyan rival factions had been there and the prevailing impression was “that many people in Libya have realised that the struggle in which everyone fights everyone else does not mean anyone wins at the end”. According to the Minister, there was therefore a good chance that an agreement on a government of national unity could be signed before Christmas. More information on the meeting is available here.
Talks with the Turkish Foreign Minister
A further topic for discussion in Brussels was relations with Turkey and the situation in the region. At the meeting attended by the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavutoglu, the EU Foreign Ministers welcomed progress made in the accession process and the opening of chapter 17 of the so‑called acquis communautaire. This is now the 15th chapter to be opened with Turkey in the negotiations led by the European Commission.
The meeting also looked however at the escalation seen in recent weeks which, as Steinmeier told the press, “are causing concern beyond Turkey’s borders”. The Ministers were referring on the one hand to Turkey’s relations with Russia after a Russian combat aircraft was shot down. At the OSCE Ministerial Council last week in Belgrade, efforts to bring the two Foreign Ministers together for initial talks were successful. More on the OSCE Ministerial Council in Belgrade.
On the other hand, talks also focused on Turkey’s tense relations with Iraq. The stationing of Turkish troops in Iraq had recently triggered harsh criticism from Baghdad. Foreign Minister Steinmeier emphasised no‑one was denying that Turkish instructors had been invited to train Peshmerga in northern Iraq and the Iraqi Army. The question was however, the Minister went on, how much military protection these instructors required. Steinmeier felt it was a good sign that Ankara and Baghdad were in direct talks. He also saw it as “a first signal” that Turkey had declared its readiness to withdraw at least some of the troops stationed in Iraq.
Given Turkey’s tense bilateral relations, Steinmeier underscored his hope that there would be a general de‑escalation soon. After all, “We do not need any more conflicts in the region. We need a stable Iraqi Government but we also need Turkey on board to deal with the conflicts we currently face.” For the Minister, the Syria conflict is a case in point.
From Brussels to Paris: spotlight on the Syria conflict
Turning to the Syria conflict, Steinmeier had that morning announced a further meeting in the Vienna format to take place in New York at the end of the week. After the positive opening meeting of the Syrian opposition last week in Riyadh, the Minister hoped that the glimmer of hope will “gradually become a beam of light” to help de‑escalate the conflict. Late afternoon, Steinmeier flew on to Paris for talks with the foreign ministers about progress in the talks to bring about a political solution.
Other issues dealt with by the Foreign Affairs Council included the Eastern Partnership and the situation in Ukraine. For Germany, the priority was on preparing the legal foundations for the elections scheduled to take place in Ukraine in spring.