Question: Mr Maas, what positive developments have there been during Trump’s term in office?
Heiko Maas: Despite all our differences on foreign policy, I can think of two areas in which Trump has brought positive change. One is Afghanistan, where for the first time we have achieved direct negotiations between the Afghan Government and the Taliban. We must continue to support these talks and do our best to protect what they accomplish. To that end, we must not prematurely set a troop withdrawal date, which would remove the pressure to make progress.
The other great accomplishment is certainly the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and some Arab states. We disagree with a number of things in Trump’s Middle East policy – but, after years of standstill, things are on the move. This opportunity needs to be seized, so that urgent issues related to the Middle East peace process can be addressed.
Question: But are you still happy that he is leaving?
Maas: I will be happy when the person in the Oval Office no longer mentions Europe in the same breath as Russia and China when listing the United States’ greatest enemies. Because, in our view, the United States is and will remain our most important partner outside Europe. And of course we are happy that Joe Biden wants to lead the US back into the Paris climate agreement, the WHO and the nuclear agreement with Iran. If we want solutions to global problems ranging from COVID‑19 to climate change, we need greater international cooperation. In recent years, the United States has been absent on these issues.
Question: What can Germany, and what can Europe, expect from a Biden presidency?
Maas: Biden has made clear that he views the partnership with Europe as a strength, not a liability. This does not mean that we will agree on all issues. We will continue to have tough discussions on some issues, such as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. But we can at least count on there being consultations among allies on important decisions, and on commitments actually being upheld.
When it comes to key strategic and geopolitical issues, we share the same values and interests: human rights, free trade and the rule of law. If we act as a team, we can better assert our convictions vis‑à‑vis countries such as China and Russia. We are prepared to do more in this regard – and we have developed a number of respective proposals, together with our European partners.
Question: In what areas does Europe need to become more independent?
Maas: Europe must finally take on more of a leadership role in the world. In recent years, we have already assumed greater responsibility in areas from which the United States has withdrawn, not only militarily but also diplomatically. Of course, we play a leading role primarily in our neighbourhood, such as in Libya and in the Sahel. We want to continue down this path, also with regard to fair transatlantic burden-sharing. We do not expect the US to return to its former role as the world’s policeman. However, in those areas where Europe assumes leadership, we will achieve more if we have the US on board.
Question: Do you believe a Trump comeback four years from now is possible?
Maas: I don’t want to speculate on that. In any case, I hope that in the coming years the United States will manage to bridge its domestic political divides and overcome the polarisation in its society. That, incidentally, is an area in which we in Europe, too, need to do our homework. Recent years have shown how much damage populism can do, also here at home.
Interview conducted by Jochen Gaugele.