True to the new direction of German foreign policy, your first trip after taking office took you to Warsaw. You have also announced that Germany wants to pay more attention to Central and Eastern European countries in future. Can we talk about a turning point in German foreign policy, can we expect a new Ostpolitik?
The term “turning point” goes a bit far perhaps. But it is certainly a new focus. But what is it all about? We want our relations with the East to be just as good and close as those with the West. Our relationship with France has become so friendly and close that it is now second nature. That is what I want to achieve with the East as well.
On what concrete questions do you want to work with the Central and Eastern European states, above all with Hungary?
Can we Europeans preserve our prosperity and secure our global influence? That is what is at stake in the years to come. That is why we need to strengthen the EU both internally and externally. We have to focus on growth, employment and technological advances. And we have to ensure we speak more and more with one voice on foreign policy.
Hungary is assuming the EU Presidency of the Council in 2011. We have an extremely demanding political agenda stretching out before us. We will do what we can to help our friends in Budapest implement this agenda.
There is tension at political level between Hungary and Slovakia – not least due to the controversial Slovak language law. Are you concerned about this tension between two EU and NATO members? Are you not worried that a second “Greek-Turkish hotspot” could develop on Germany’s doorstep? Germany could play a mediating role to prevent this happening – or do Budapest and Bratislava have to sort these points of dispute out on their own and as quickly as possible?
I am confident that Hungary and Slovakia will be able to iron out their differences amicably. The Joint Statement made by the two Prime Ministers in Szécsény in September 2009 creates a good foundation on which to resolve the remaining points of dispute.
According to the new plan of the Obama Administration, the United States wants to set up part of their missile defence system in Romania. Will Germany support this plan, do you think it is sensible to set up a ballistic missile defence system in Romania against rogue states, for example against Iran?
We have always attached great importance to closely involving all partners on an issue as important as joint missile defence. And to conducting this discussion not just amongst ourselves in NATO but also very clearly together with Russia.
So we welcomed last year’s shift in the US plans. This gave the NATO partners the opportunity to make national contributions. That is how I understand the decision taken by the Romanian Government.
How great do you assess the danger posed by the Iranian nuclear and missile programmes? Would you support even harsher sanctions, for example those directly affecting Iranian banks and the financial sector?
No-one is denying Iran the right to nuclear technology for civilian ends. But an Iran with nuclear weapons is not acceptable to us. With its years of playing hide-and-seek, the Iranian leadership has destroyed trust in its intentions. We need tangible proof of the civilian nature of the Iranian nuclear programme.
The statements made by the Iranian leadership in recent days are worrying. Iran has to move otherwise a new round of sanctions is unavoidable.
In what situation and in what circumstances would Germany advocate a military solution?
Anyone wanting the international community to act in a united and resolute fashion is better to forego such nonsensical trains of thought.
You have been in office as Foreign Minister for more than 100 days now. What advice did your mentor, Mr Genscher, give you?
The most important piece of advice: to be able to keep quiet sometimes.
What was your greatest surprise for you as German Foreign Minister both positive and negative?
Positive: the real enthusiasm for Europe that greeted me during my first trips to Poland and other eastern neighbours. And negative: the helpless way in which the international community has to look on after a disaster such as that in Haiti and see how a country that is working to stand on its own two feet can be thrown back.
Do you think you were treated unfairly by the media at the start, for example, due to your supposedly inadequate knowledge of English?
As long as you don’t ridicule me for my poor Hungarian! All joking aside, no-one can decide what the press writes. My work to promote the German language – and no other language in Europe is the mother tongue of more people – certainly has serious intentions. That is why I think it is obvious to speak German at press conferences in Germany.