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Interview with Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the Handelsblatt of 30 March 2006

30.03.2006 - Interview

Dr Steinmeier, you are travelling to Norway today to discuss the development of its gas fields. Is this a move towards eliminating the "one-sided energy dependency" you have identified?

So far we have managed to diversify pretty well in Germany, despite the fact that Russian gas is becoming increasingly important. But this process is not imposed by the state. Companies conclude long-term supply contracts. Policymakers ensure that the necessary degree of diversification is maintained. We are eager to remain involved in the exploration of Norwegian gas fields.

Many Eastern European countries depend on Russian gas and are pressing the EU to take action. Is a new front against old members looming?

I don't think so, simply because the new member states don't share a common position. Only a few proposed a confrontational approach towards Russia, for example. But the Presidency Conclusions of the EU Summit state that EU foreign and security policymakers should seek to engage in effective dialogue with producer countries.

If the dialogue now advocated between consumer, transit and producer countries had taken place, would the plans for the controversial Baltic gas pipeline ever have emerged?

Without a doubt.

Despite the resistance in Eastern Europe?

I would advise talking to the governments in the countries concerned. I can certainly say that the initial talks within the German-Polish working group and with the Baltic partners have defused the debate considerably.

Is it in Germany's interests for former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to assume the chairmanship of the NPEG operating company's advisory board?

Would it be better for a representative of another country to head the board? From a German perspective this is a useful appointment.

But doesn't it unintentionally introduce a political dimension into a commercial enterprise?

The former Chancellor has always driven this project forward on the understanding that it concerns the issue of Europe's and not merely Germany's energy supply. And in fact many of our Western neighbours have already shown an interest in being connected. From our current perspective that certainly justifies the plan.

Today the American Secretary of State is coming to Berlin. Will you express to her your criticism of the nuclear agreement between the United States and India?

There's no question that the understanding reached between the United States and India was ill-timed in view of the ongoing talks on Iran's nuclear programme. However, I would guard against premature blanket criticism. A simple refusal to cooperate does not do justice to the issue. We have to ask ourselves whether such arrangements cannot serve to integrate nuclear powers more firmly into the regime of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. For at the end of the day we want to strengthen that treaty. Now, I'm not so naïve as to believe that India will be in a position to sign it in the next two years. But the fact that the country will be subjecting a larger proportion of its civilian nuclear power stations to International Atomic Energy Agency supervision surely constitutes progress.

So why is Pakistan not receiving the green light for nuclear technology?

You can't just treat the two countries alike. I think that goes without saying. In the past Pakistan has proved itself to be less cooperative than India in the area of non-proliferation.

What is the logic behind the meeting of the Six in Berlin to discuss Iran?

We want to ensure that the international community presents as united a front as possible. A similar meeting in London on 31 January resulted in significant progress.

How do you assess Iran's new proposals to establish an international centre for uranium enrichment in Tehran?

That isn't really a new proposal. If Iran wants to reach a consensus, it must provide reliable assurance that it will first suspend all activities in the area of uranium enrichment. As long as that doesn't happen, resumption of the talks will remain problematic.

The United States wants to talk to Iran about the situation in Iraq. Do you see Iran as a destabilizing or as a stabilizing factor in Iraq?

At the moment I don't have the impression that Iran is influencing the Shiites with the aim of calling into question Iraq's territorial integrity. The tensions between the different groups in Iraq are rooted largely in the jostling for political influence in a future government.

You worded that very diplomatically …

To avoid escalation I would certainly advocate that a government in Baghdad should be formed as soon as possible.

Trying to put pressure on Iran because of the nuclear programme sounds difficult when you need its assistance on Iraq.

That's why I believe that we should not neglect the most urgent international issue, the nuclear programme, during the planned American-Iranian talks.

In connection with the Iraq war, how serious do you consider the consequences of setting up a committee to investigate the role of the Federal Intelligence Service?

The decision appears to have been taken. Parliament is absolutely entitled to install this committee, and a government does not have the right to criticize that. Whether the committee is necessary from a political point of view is another question entirely. The Federal Government has already taken a quite unprecedented step by reporting to the competent Parliamentary Control Panel. In any case, the partner services take a sceptical view of the additional transparency which some members of the Bundestag now desire.

Do you think that Germany's reputation in the Arab world has been damaged by reports alleging that the Federal Intelligence Service assisted the United States?

We can't exclude that possibility entirely. However, I believe that in most of the Arab world people recognize that at the time we didn't merely criticize the military action, but also that no German soldiers were involved. The German debate bothers me for many reasons. Some people are now trying to portray as a contradiction the distinction between not sending soldiers to Iraq and continuing to cooperate with close allies which we made then and which was publicly supported.

Is that not because Schröder exploited the issue in his election campaign and this distinction faded into the background?

That isn't the heart of the problem. Some people evidently believe with hindsight that a no to the Iraq war ought to have led to us breaking off our relations with the United States. We should just ask ourselves whether, if we had got hold of the "snail plan" for defending Baghdad, we could really have justified not handing it over to the United States? It annoys me that people pretend that by saying no to the Iraq war we chose to position ourselves equidistantly between Saddam Hussein and George Bush. That's absurd. The end of our close cooperation with the United States, including in the area of intelligence, was never an issue and would have been truly irresponsible in this case.

The interviewers were Ruth Berschens, Andreas Rinke and Bernd Ziesemer.

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