-- Translation of advance text --
Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,
Current events in the Middle East show just how difficult it is to make political headway in the conflict there. We discussed this issue in detail yesterday in the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and I’m sure we agree that it is therefore all the more important for the international community and indeed Germany, as part of that community, to maintain its commitment to peace and security in the region.
Germany has a vital strategic interest in lasting peace in the Middle East. The key elements needed to achieve that overarching goal are the security of the State of Israel, the creation of a viable Palestinian state, and of course not least the strengthening of Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability.
Over the past two years that country’s domestic political situation has further stabilized due to the success of the parliamentary elections, the formation of a government of national unity led by Prime Minister Hariri, and the holding of local elections. I therefore want to stress that the UN’s commitment in the form of UNIFIL has doubtlessly played a decisive role in this stabilization.
During my recent visit to Lebanon my talks with the political leadership, the UNIFIL commanders and the German troops serving there made it clear to me how important our contribution still is to the creation of an independent Lebanese coastguard force.
Last December, when asking this House to extend the UNIFIL mandate, I pointed out that the UN was about to evaluate the mission. That evaluation has now taken place. It was completed this spring. As a result the UN Secretary-General, in summing up, stated that while the UNIFIL naval element remained necessary, it could not, just as the mission as a whole, be continued indefinitely.
With this in mind, we are asking for an extension of Germany’s participation in the UNIFIL naval element for another year. But let me state here and now that we don’t wish to merely continue our mission off the Lebanese coast. The mandate is now a new one in terms of both quality and quantity, and it also contains a clear prospect of withdrawal.
The manpower ceiling for German participation in the UNIFIL naval element will be reduced from 800 to 300 troops, i.e. more than halved. Less than 300 soldiers are deployed and serving there at the moment. The focus of that participation from now on will be on training and improving the operational capabilities of Lebanon’s naval forces.
The aim of the German mission is to put the Lebanese naval forces into a position to protect their own maritime borders as soon as possible. This must be the key aim of the new mandate. If we want to fix a date for withdrawal, we must make sure that the local forces are able to take on the German troops’ tasks. This is why the mandate’s new focus is on basic and further training.
Lebanon has made significant progress in this field since 2008. This is above all clear to those of you in this House who have visited the country. I think we can agree that the Lebanese Navy doesn’t yet have the necessary overall capabilities.
Many of you have been to Lebanon; you’ve visited UNIFIL, and you know that a contribution is still needed not only in terms of training but also of equipment for maritime border protection to work at all. As soon as these gaps have been filled, in other words when Lebanon can protect its own maritime borders, we plan to end the mission.
Our participation in the UNIFIL naval element remains part of our comprehensive engagement for Lebanon and the region, which includes political, economic and societal measures. This is because – and here too we should not delude ourselves – if we fail to reduce tensions in the region as a whole, to achieve progress in the Middle East peace process, to get results from the proximity talks which have fortunately begun and have not ended in spite of recent events due to President Abbas’s wise decision, to turn indirect into direct talks, the international community’s efforts will not produce the progress we all want – in the interests of the region, of Israel, and expressly also of an independent Palestinian state, as well as of Europe.
This is what it is about, and for that reason we ask you for this mandate. As we all know, everything is closely linked. We are asking you to approve what is a qualitatively and quantitatively new mandate.
Thank you for your attention.