Foreign Minister Steinmeier held a series of high‑level talks in Berlin today in light of the tensions in the Middle East and the ongoing civil war in Syria. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini visited the Federal Foreign Office in the morning, followed by US Secretary of State John Kerry. In the afternoon, Steinmeier met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“There’s no such thing as a distant conflict any more”
Kicking off a day of crisis diplomacy, the German Foreign Minister hosted a meeting with Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The High Representative is currently not only in talks with representatives of the Middle East region but is also engaged in preparing the upcoming summit to bring together the EU and African countries in Valletta, Malta, on 11 and 12 November. After their discussion, Steinmeier said that policy‑makers had learned in recent times that “there’s no such thing as a distant conflict any more”. The effects of crises are directly felt in Europe, in the form, for example, of refugee movements. Steinmeier therefore thanked his EU counterpart for engaging in close and trust‑based cooperation in responding to the current crises. Mogherini will be taking part on behalf of the EU in the Middle East Quartet meeting in Vienna on Friday (23 October), alongside the United Nations, US and Russia.
Preserving Syria’s territorial integrity
US Secretary of State Kerry is also travelling for talks on the Middle East situation. He met Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to visiting Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the Federal Foreign Office. After that, he will journey on to the region itself, via Vienna. Before his meeting with Kerry, Steinmeier expressed concern at Russia’s military intervention in Syria. “The immediate effect of Russia’s military action has been additional suffering and yet more movement of refugees,” Steinmeier said. It had made the situation even more complex, he went on, but added that efforts in search of a political settlement must nonetheless continue. Kerry and Steinmeier agreed that all those involved had a shared interest in seeing Syria retain its territorial integrity as a state. If Syria were to collapse, Steinmeier averred, there would be direct repercussions for its neighbours in the region.
Middle East conflict: Don’t add more fuel to the fire
The talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel took place in the context of rising tensions and violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Steinmeier spoke reassuringly at the start of the meeting: “It is dreadful that people in Israel are having to live in fear of falling victim to senseless violence. And be assured that we will stand firm in our friendship with Israel, not least in difficult times.” Steinmeier also appealed to all those involved to do what they could to calm the situation:
What we must now expect of all parties in the region – of the Israeli Government, Palestinian leaders, the regional players – is that they do all they can to de‑escalate the current situation and avoid anything that could add fuel to the fire at this time. That includes not indulging in rhetoric that might exacerbate tensions.
Steinmeier expressed the hope that the parties would soon find ways to restore stability, particularly to the fragile situation on the Temple Mount, and to preserve the status quo in peace. Beyond that, he said, only a return to talks on a two‑state solution could secure peace in the Middle East for the long term.