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Foreign Minister Steinmeier in the German Bundestag on the Annual Disarmament Report 2008

30.01.2009 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

One swallow does not make a summer. In other words, when in the current situation a European power shows itself willing to cancel an armament project which hadn't even started, that, in my view, can't really be described as disarmament. We all know that. Nevertheless, this debate is right and important at this particular point in time, a time when a fresh wind is again blowing in international politics and, I hope, also in disarmament policy.

Why am I saying this? I'm saying it because I welcome the fact that the new American President addressed the Arab and Moslem world in his first interview and that he also signalled to Russia his desire for détente and that, in response, Russia indicated its willingness not to station missiles, as announced, in Kaliningrad. This is good news and, at the same time, an opportunity which we now have to seize. I believe that strategic decisions which will shape disarmament policy for the next decade will be made in 2009. We must make the right decisions.

As I've said often enough – also here in this House – it's time for us to move away from the old way of thinking in terms of self-imposed isolation or deterrence when it comes to international relations. We have to move towards a new foreign and international policy marked by long-term strategies and foresightedness, something I have often advocated. We have a chance to do that now, a chance we mustn't squander. I very much hope we won't.

Ladies and gentlemen, I spoke of gestures we welcome and are pleased to see. It's important that such gestures are translated into action. For that we especially need one thing which has disappeared in international politics during the last few years, namely trust. There can be no international disarmament policy without trust. That's why we have to work to create this trust.

Of course, there are priorities in disarmament policy which we have to tackle. In my view, the first and most important task is ensuring there are fewer nuclear weapons. Concepts and strategies on this do exist. Those who've worked on them aren't woolly-headed idealists – including those in Germany. If Helmut Schmidt, Richard von Weizsäcker, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Egon Bahr are working on them and put forward proposals of this kind, then you can be sure they are quite practical steps towards a world free of nuclear weapons.

This is also a response – that's how they want it to be regarded – to a proposal developed last year by four US foreign and security policy heavyweights including Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. They are working to make this vision concrete reality.

We have to do that. That's why we should work together to ensure that those on the American and German side who put forward such proposals come together here in Berlin and pool the proposals and strategies which have been drawn up. We should help translate such ideas and proposals into practical policy.

The key task before us is most certainly the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We have had depressing experiences in the past. The last reform period ended without anything being achieved. It's also quite clear that Russia and the US, which possess more than 90 per cent of the world's nuclear weapon stocks, have to take the lead.

I want to take this opportunity to appeal to the two young Presidents in the US and Russia to live up to their responsibilities and look to the future. At present, signals of this kind seem to be coming mainly from the American side. There are three signals which I want to mention briefly.

Firstly, the readiness of the US to extend the START Treaty, the agreement on further nuclear dis­armament, once it expires at the end of this year.

Secondly – and this is almost a sensation for anyone sitting in this plenary who has taken an interest in disarmament policy during the last eight years – President Obama has announced that he will now submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification.

We've been waiting in vain for many years for this crucial signal. We now know that we can prevent the new players on the international stage from building up nuclear arsenals.

Thirdly – not an unimportant point: the deliberations within the new US Administration on whether the production of weapons-grade fissile material should be halted. If we could manage to take this up again, also in international negotiations, then we will finally be tackling the problem of nuclear armament at its roots; for we would be ensuring that material which had finally been destroyed following many years of negotiations could not be replaced.

These are three key signals which could mean a leap forward in the denuclearization of arms technology.

No-one's being naive here. We, too, know that Germany cannot change the world for the better on its own by renouncing nuclear energy and weapons. There are regions and states which are keen to at least extend the production of nuclear energy for civilian purposes. Naturally, this raises certain questions, and not for the first time: how can we limit or even eliminate the risks which extending the use of nuclear energy for civilian purposes could generate? How, above all else, can we ensure that fissile material for nuclear weapons isn't ultimately produced secretly along the way?

On Germany's behalf, I have canvassed support within the International Atomic Energy Agency for a proposal on the multilateralization of the fuel cycle aimed at ensuring international supervision – we don't have to go into the details now – everywhere enrichment technology is used. I believe this task should, if possible, be carried out by the IAEA.

Support for this proposal is growing. We will continue to actively canvass backing for this solution. My next conversation with Mr ElBaradei will take place in Munich this coming weekend.

The IAEA can only function if states are prepared to cooperate with this key UN supervisory body. I say this because it is important states, such as Iran and Syria, which have brought these risks to the international stage. We have to appeal to these states – indeed urge them – to really cooperate with the IAEA. You have followed all of this at close quarters.

We have now been striving intensively for four years to come to an agreement with Iran, to ensure that the nuclear programme, which is probably also a nuclear weapon programme, doesn't continue. We've made offers to Iran. But we've also adopted sanctions. We still want and need a diplomatic solution. It's therefore good that President Obama has reached out, that he has shown his readiness to conduct direct talks with Iran. I simply believe it's time for us to appeal, also from this House, to Iran and the Iranian leadership not to reject this offer. For as we all saw in the news yesterday, Iran is beginning to raise the hurdles for direct talks now that the US has stressed its willingness to talk. I therefore say: be sensible! Accept the US offer – not so much for the sake of the US and the rest of the world – and of course, we too would like to see a solution – but, first and foremost, for the sake of the people who are suffering as a result of the isolation and confrontation which Iran's policy has provoked. This has gone so far that many people are going hungry there.

New issues emerge in the course of time. Nevertheless, the buzzwords and headlines sometimes remain the same over years or even decades. That would seem to indicate that we haven't completed our tasks yet. The common area of security in Europe, or from Vancouver to Vladivostok, most definitely isn't a new issue. However, it's as topical as ever. But I still don't understand why, when we realize that this area is exposed to new risks which affect everyone, we cannot find ways and means of really protecting ourselves from these new threats. The time for this is ripe. We should take advantage of this opportune time and should not take the threats we all face as grounds to start new superfluous conflicts between East and West. That definitely wouldn't make sense.

Ladies and gentlemen, we also need a fresh start in the debate on the CFE Treaty. There's one argument which Russia rightly uses against it. It's said that the CFE Treaty dates back to a time which is now over, namely the time before NATO's eastward enlargement. I say: although this argument is right, it would be wrong to conclude that we should therefore do nothing.

The right conclusion to draw is that we have to adapt the CFE Treaty to the new conditions. For we need it, it isn't obsolete. Anyone who witnessed the development and course of the conflict in the southern Caucasus last summer knows that the purpose of the CFE Treaty, namely greater stability in the European area, has certainly not become obsolete. We will therefore invite everyone involved to Berlin again and try to achieve more progress on the CFE Treaty than in the past.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to round off my remarks by saying: disarmament policy is a long process. As a rule, it's not an issue for cliché-mongers, that's for sure. Nevertheless, I want to tell you that it's worth the effort. Sometimes it's possible to have such an experience while still in office: for instance, in Oslo just a few weeks ago I was one of the signatories to a ban on cluster munitions. That's good. However, it has to be said that many states still haven't signed it. The pressure is growing but it must grow further. The Foreign Minister alone cannot ensure that it continues to grow. That's why he needs a Parliament and Members of Parliament who support him and are prepared to take on this task.

You may rest assured that I'm very much aware that progress in this field is usually slow and minimal or doesn't even materialize over many years. I know this is a task for which you aren't praised the next day in the media. But it's an important one. I therefore want to thank you for your support in the past and will continue to count on you in future.

Thank you very much.

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