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Interview: Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the situation in Libya (Deutschlandfunk)

25.02.2011 - Interview

Broadcast on Deutschlandfunk on 25 February 2011

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Federal President Christian Wulff spoke yesterday about developments in Libya,calling Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi a “state terrorist”.The tyrant Gaddafi gave the impression of being a psychopath, the Federal President said last night in Berlin.But Gaddafi remains unbowed before this international criticism.The fighting in Libya, akin to civil war, is continuing.

Joining us by phone is Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.Good morning, Mr Westerwelle.

Good morning, Ms Engels.

Let’s pick up directly on the last part of that report, which refers to the foreigners still in Libya.It is said that these include around 160 Germans. The German Navy is sending three warships to the coast to evacuate German citizens.What is the plan now?

We have already succeeded in evacuating several hundred Germans and other European nationals from Libya. But there are still some 160 Germans in the country: 100 of them are spread around the country, although there are some larger groups in some places. The rest of them are in Tripoli. Naturally we have taken every possible step to fly our nationals out of the country. Some initially decided to stay. I don’t know whether they have changed their minds in the meantime. But I wish to say again in all clarity that the use of the German Navy, or of our Transall plane, is solely intended to get our nationals out of the country.

In other words, they won’t be firing?

I said the aim was solely to get our nationals out of the country, and I don’t want to speculate about what form the operation may take on the spot. But anyone can see that this is an extremely dangerous situation. This regime is hitting out like mad; it is waging war against its own people; it is threatening the people with a protracted civil war – and that’s why I have decided that we will again call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council. I believe sanctions are inevitable in the light of these severe human rights violations and the massive use of violence. These might include travel bans for the ruling family, but also the freezing of assets.

What other sanctions do you think the UN, but perhaps also the EU, must impose?

The two things I just mentioned are the top priorities. Apart from that, of course, the main thing is to arrive at a uniform position within the international community. Last Monday I thought the European Union was too hesitant; that’s why I and other colleagues in the EU decided on Tuesday to make a move on sanctions. In the meantime, we have seen that the realization that this behaviour is utterly unacceptable is gradually taking hold in the European Union too. The United Nations Security Council considered the matter in an emergency session this week, responding, I may say, in very clear and apt language. During my trip to Cairo yesterday I spoke to the Secretary-General of the Arab League, among others. I find it very gratifying that both the African Union and the Arab League have used very clear, unambiguous language vis-à-vis the ruling family in Libya.

Mr Westerwelle, let’s turn to the EU, which has not yet introduced any concrete measures for sanctions.Will there have to be an ultimatum?

I don’t think it’s a matter now of setting time limits. Now it’s a matter of taking action. That’s why I have decided that sanctions should be prepared already. That means that we must enter immediately into talks with our international allies, and with our partners in the European Union too. Given the massive violence, sanctions are unavoidable. These must include travel bans and the freezing of the dictator’s family’s foreign assets. This is hugely important, because anyone who behaves like this, anyone who wages war against his own people, who murders and kills his own people, must realize that he cannot simply run away if he fails, that he cannot simply take up residence abroad somewhere and enjoy a comfortable old age. No, the international community will have to exclude such people.

What do you think of further-reaching sanctions, for instance stopping oil supplies?

I think it’s too early to talk about economic issues. The first priority has to be political sanctions. The main thing is to arrive at a uniform position within the international community. That’s why the Human Rights Council will be meeting in Geneva today. We will be doing the same thing in Geneva again on Monday, because it’s the ruling family we want to hit, not the Libyan people. We certainly don’t want to make conditions worse for the people.

But the oil mainly benefits the ruling family.Shouldn’t one simply vote down hesitant partners like Italy?

Things must be tackled step by step. I’ve already told you about the political sanctions. But I will say it again: these are targeted political sanctions aimed at the dictator’s family, not least with a view to encouraging the moderate forces in Libya to pull free from the ruling family and commit to the side of change. We do not want sanctions to hit the people of Libya. We have a partnership with the Libyan people. We regard the Libyan people as neighbours and partners of Europe. We don’t want to hit the people. We don’t want to cause greater poverty for the country’s young people, but to give them the chance of greater prosperity through democracy.

Mr Westerwelle, you said yourself that you felt Europe was too slow to move on Libya.How dramatic is it that Europe is again vacillating so much?Even EU High Representative Catherine Ashton offers an example.

I have the impression that everyone in Europe has now realized that hesitation is inappropriate. We Germans made our position crystal clear right at the beginning of the week – along with other colleagues, may I say, France for instance – and this will not have been lost on our other colleagues. This morning I will be meeting my Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini, whom I value very highly, and whom I know to be a compassionate man who is completely aware that Europe’s foreign policy must be interest-based, but above all value-oriented. And we as European democrats stand on the side of democratic change.

Mr Westerwelle, your Luxembourg counterpart, Jean Asselborn, said here on Deutschlandfunk the day before yesterday that what is happening in Libya just now is genocide.If you say this, don’t you also have to consider military intervention in Libya?

I don’t want to enter into any such speculation. The priority now is to play our part, as the international community, to give change in Libya a chance, as we managed to do in Tunisia and Egypt with a well-balanced policy. However, it has to be said that in the case of Libya the ruling family has very obviously decided to fight its own people right to the end, till the last bullet has been used, if you like. It is not only the dictator himself, but also his son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who has threatened his own people with civil war. On the other hand, it is clear that the ruling family has lost its power in the east of the country, towards the Egyptian border, and of course we will have to wait and see how things carry on in the rest of the country.

Moving on to another subject, Mr Westerwelle: you have just returned from Egypt, where you had talks with the acting Government and with members of the opposition.Do you now believe the Military Council is truly prepared to turn Egypt into a real democracy?

Of course words must be followed by deeds, but so far the military leadership in Egypt (which, you recall, assumed power at the wish of the people) has done everything right and also drawn up a clear timetable. This means that the constitutional process will reach a positive outcome within the next six months, and then presidential and parliamentary elections can take place. And we will offer support for development and for civil society. If you have been on Tahrir Square, as I was yesterday, a place which has a similar significance for Egyptians as the Brandenburg Gate had for us at the time of German unification, and you hear hundreds of people chanting “long live Egypt, long live Germany”, then you realize that we Germans carry a big responsibility, but especially that our policy was and is very obviously appreciated by the Egyptian people.

Do you have any indication that there are still parts of the old regime in Egypt that would be strong enough to stop the transformation?

It is our goal to ensure that this change is lasting and irreversible. After all, at the end of a process of democratic change, we want a democracy. Of course Egypt and the Egyptian people will have to decide for themselves who should lead them, who are the opinion-leaders – for the process of change as well – but things are very clearly moving in the right direction. I cannot say what the situation might be in a few months’ time. So far, at least, I have the impression that the movement for freedom is still advancing, and we as Europeans, as Germans, have a huge interest in ensuring that in Tunisia or Egypt, for instance, this revolution for freedom bears fruit for the population as well. The people took to the streets to demand democracy, but also jobs and opportunities for the future, so that they can escape their poverty, given the enormous potential of Egypt and Tunisia.

That was Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on “Informationen am Morgen”.Thank you for talking to us.

Thank you.

Interview: Silvia Engels

Reproduced with the kind permission of Deutschlandfunk

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