Question: Several days ago you received the Commission of Historians’ report on the German Foreign Office and the Second World War. Why did it take the Foreign Office so long to allow this dark chapter in its history to be researched?
The image of the Foreign Office as a cradle of resistance had already been debunked decades earlier by a number of publications. What’s particular to the Commission of Historians’ report is its plethora of disturbing new details. The report shows how the Foreign Office aligned itself with and assimilated to the new regime practically overnight when Hitler came to power. That’s shocking.
How do you as the German Foreign Minister feel about the findings of this report?
I was shocked when I read the report. It unsparingly depicts the deep involvement of the Federal Foreign Office in the tyranny of the Nazi regime. The Foreign Office and many of its members incurred tremendous guilt during the Nazi era. It’s shameful.
Members of the Commission of Historians claim that they didn’t have free access to the Foreign Office’s Archive. Do you support total transparency and possible further research?
The Commission evaluated a large number of personnel files and was able to examine previously secret files. Nonetheless, I take the Commission’s criticism of the Archive’s work very seriously, precisely because I know how many historians use the Archive. This also means that the necessary and appropriate steps will be taken. It takes transparency and openness to come to grips with our own past.
The FDP oversaw the Foreign Office for decades, and so bears some responsibility – according to the members of the Commission – for the fact that diplomats with a Nazi past were able to further pursue their diplomatic careers after the war. Is this true? And has the FDP entirely cleared up its “brown-shirted” past?
It is a fact that Nazi-era diplomats played a role in the re-establishment of the Federal Foreign Office in the Federal Republic. The FDP, like all democratic parties in Germany, stands for dealing with our past both clearly and thoroughly.
Is there still anti-Semitism in the Foreign Office?
The Commission of Historians is in itself clear evidence that the Federal Foreign Office and its staff are unconditionally facing up to the fraught past.
Your decision to revoke former Minister Fischer’s directive on obituaries has been heavily criticized. What motivated you to do this?
The issue is how the Federal Foreign Office, in light of its past, is to deal with obituaries for former employees. What’s clear to me is that Nazis will not be honoured. But it’s also clear that a state based on the rule of law must treat the individual fairly. That’s why we should show deceased employees who did nothing wrong the respect of commemorating and honouring them. We will consult external experts in cases where any doubt exists.
Do you feel yourself to have been unfairly personally attacked by the left on this issue?
This important and necessary debate is about confronting a very dark chapter in German history. It’s not about the right way of dealing with the Foreign Office’s past, it’s not about personal attacks.
You campaigned to get Germany a seat on the UN Security Council again. What are your goals? And what does this mean for Iran?
For decades Germany has dedicated itself above all to working for peace, security and development in the world. We’re the third-largest financial contributor to the United Nations and one of the main providers of troops for United Nations missions. In the next two years we’ll have the opportunity to promote peace and security even more effectively in the Security Council. This holds just as true for the issues of disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation – issues facing humanity that are every bit as critical as the struggle against climate change. We are working for this to become a decade of disarmament and not a decade of armament. This includes preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons. And of course we’ll also take a role in the Middle East peace process.
Are the current sanctions against Iran effective according to your information, and should they thus be tightened? If so, how?
In the Security Council and the EU, we’ve recently tightened the sanctions against Iran dramatically. They send the Iranian leadership an unmistakeable message to return to the negotiating table. We cannot yet estimate exactly what effect the sanctions have. It is, however, noteworthy that the Iranian leadership has now declared itself once again willing to enter into talks. We want serious and substantive negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme. Iran would be well advised not to miss this opportunity.
Previous negotiations with Iran have achieved nothing. Why should it be any different now?
It is my impression that the united stance of the international community has been very keenly noted.
German Bundestag and FDP delegations have travelled to Iran in recent weeks. Don’t you think that this sort of official contact lends the Iranian regime a legitimacy that it hasn’t earned?
Representatives in the German Bundestag decide independently what countries they want to visit and when. Their travel is not contingent upon the opinion of the Federal Government.
What’s the opinion of the Federal Government on this issue?
I as Foreign Minister do not publicly offer advice to other constitutional organs.
What does the special relationship between Germany and Israel mean to you?
Because of our history, we bear a particular responsibility towards Israel: to us, Israel’s security is not up for negotiation. The negation of all civilization that was the Shoah must never be forgotten. That’s why last year, upon assuming office, I consciously began my first trip to Israel with a visit to Yad Vashem. Today we enjoy close political relations as well as ever more intensive contacts between the citizens of our countries. We need to strengthen these relations, which is what I’m working on during this trip.
How could these relations be strengthened?
For example, by ensuring that substantive preparations for the third German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations are undertaken.
Our special relationship to Israel also makes it possible for us to address our differences of opinion on the Middle East peace process openly as a friend and partner. We believe this process entails a compromise on the settlements issue, based on the road map. But it also includes improvement of the humanitarian and economic situation of the Gaza Strip. That’s why in Jerusalem I want to call for the allowance of exports from Gaza.
Should the Palestinians compromise too?
We’re calling for both sides to take a constructive approach.
Do you accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demand that the Arab and Muslim world recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
The Israel of today has undoubtedly been shaped by its democratic and Jewish traditions. The realization of a two-state solution therefore also serves to preserve these traditions, as Israel seeks to do.
Does Germany accept the idea that Israel is and should remain a Jewish state?
We would like Israel to retain its democratic and Jewish heritage within the framework of a just peace solution.
Will a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians contribute to the Middle East peace process?
A unilateral declaration of statehood does not bring us any closer to comprehensive and sustainable peace. There is no alternative to a negotiated solution. This must, however, be actively pursued.
Are you satisfied with the performance of the American President, Barack Obama, in the Middle East?
I value President Obama’s great personal commitment to peace in the Middle East very highly. With his impressive speech in Cairo, Barack Obama sent the right message at the beginning of his presidency. He is counting on the courage and commitment of Israelis and Palestinians to make a just and comprehensive two-state solution a reality. At the same time, his government includes the neighbouring countries in the region, without whom lasting peace would be inconceivable.
Four years after the “second Lebanon war”, Hezbollah is more heavily armed than ever. There is no doubt that the international community has utterly failed in Lebanon. What lessons do you take from this situation? How can another war in Lebanon be avoided?
A few months ago, the UN Security Council extended the UNIFIL mission for another year, also at Israel’s request. The Israeli Government had also asked for the further participation of German soldiers. We remain committed. Of course, the situation in Lebanon isn’t easy. But here too there’s no military solution. Rather, we must do everything possible for the country’s stable and peaceful development. We will continue to strive for this.
You have met with your Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman, many times. What is your impression of him?
We work well together and hold each other in high personal regard, even if our opinions occasionally diverge.