Interview with Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Die Welt, 4 May 2011
Mr Westerwelle, the Federal Chancellor and the CSU Chairman have said they are pleased that Osama bin Laden has been killed.Is that an appropriate reaction from representatives of a state based on the rule of law which has emphatically abolished the death penalty?
The fact that Osama bin Laden cannot continue his bloody deeds is good news for the whole world, for the West and for the vast majority of people of the Muslim faith. And I think it’s understandable that there is a certain feeling of relief that this terrorist, who had many thousands of victims on his conscience, can no longer spread his terrors. With regard to the storming of the house, it has been reported that the terrorist leader, for whom an international arrest warrant had been issued, defended himself using a weapon. He is said to have been killed during an exchange of fire.
So as far as you know there was no deliberate attempt to kill him?
It is reported that a fight broke out and he was killed in the course of it. I have no other information than that.
Already there are calls from the opposition here in Germany for the Bundeswehr engagement in Afghanistan to end now that bin Laden is dead.
That would be reckless in foreign policy terms and would run counter to our own security interests. After all, we didn’t go to Afghanistan to catch a terrorist leader. We went to prevent Kabul from once again becoming the global capital of terrorism, as it was under the Taliban. Terrible attacks are planned, and murderers are trained, in Afghanistan. The remaining terror camps in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan still pose an immediate threat to the citizens of Europe and Germany. It is no coincidence, you see, that the members of both the Sauerland group and the recently detained Düsseldorf terrorist cell were trained in al-Qaida camps. We will continue to pursue our present policy on Afghanistan, because over the past 16 months it has brought us the prospect of withdrawal.
Security agencies expect revenge attacks by extremists in response to bin Laden’s death.What does that mean for the safety of German citizens both here at home and abroad?
Just a few hours after news of bin Laden’s death came through I expressed my concern that this did not mean the end of terrorism and that we would have to expect some sort of reaction. What is needed is vigilance at home, care and caution abroad. At the same time, it is important to point out that the vast majority of young Muslims, particularly in the Arab world, definitely don’t identify with al-Qaida’s terrorist acts. The pictures we are seeing of extremists vowing to exact revenge are not representative of the majority of people in the Muslim world. The vast majority of young people in particular are looking to the future – this was made abundantly clear by the liberal, enlightened spirit of the Jasmine Revolution.
Nonetheless, there are radical forces who want to use bin Laden’s death for their own ends.How can they be countered?
First of all we must take care that our reactions here in the West – as understandable as the feeling of relief may be – do not send the wrong signals to the world, signals that would help incite or glorify al-Qaida. Religious cultures must be respected, Islam must be respected. Seeing misguided individuals in the West burn the Koran in their religious fanaticism is something which not only disgusts me personally; it also has a political impact, because it plays into the hands of radical forces. We should instead use this time now to work towards détente, understanding and dialogue. The time has come for a new chapter in relations between the West and the Arab world. Because for the vast majority of young people in the Arab world terrorism belongs to yesterday; the young people want to live in greater freedom, and above all they want better opportunities.
What concrete policy is needed to promote this, apart from this commitment?
Only if the democratic revolution brings benefits for the people will it be sustainable. That’s why it’s time for us not merely to support Tunisia and Egypt with words and political initiatives, but also to help bring about concrete economic improvements. And by that I don’t just mean that we should start going to the Red Sea or Djerba as tourists again. Rather, we must open our markets in Europe for these countries and their products. I have launched initiatives to that end, and now they need to be implemented, in Germany and Europe. And we must encourage our companies to invest, especially in a key state like Egypt. What’s needed is a tangible democracy dividend! These months just now are crucial: this revolution has not yet been decided. I don’t want the people to think in a couple of years’ time that democracy is no better than dictatorship because they are still suffering poverty and need. Because then they really would turn to the extremists.
What does the fact that bin Laden was living a comfortable life in Abottabad, in the immediate vicinity of military installations, say about the trustworthiness of the Pakistan Government, which is after all a key partner in Afghanistan?
That is indeed strange and gives rise to questions. It is good and commendable that the Pakistan Government has of its own accord shown the necessary sensitivity to look into these questions. And that’s what we expect.
Isn’t there a danger that the Government in Islamabad, which is already weak, will be further destabilized?
I don’t want to speculate on that. The priority now is to establish how it was possible for bin Laden to live there undiscovered. It is important that these inquiries come up with credible answers.
Hamas has condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden.Is it time to adjust Germany’s Middle East policy?
No. It is still the case that an organization like Hamas, which is on the EU’s list of terrorist organizations, cannot be a partner for Germany as long as it denies Israel’s right to exist and refuses to renounce violence. We remain committed to intra-Palestinian dialogue. At present we do not know the latest agreement between Hamas and Fatah. But the glorification of Osama bin Laden by a Hamas spokesman certainly doesn’t suggest anything positive.
What do you regard as the bigger obstacle to a difficult peace in the Middle East – Israel’s settlement policy or Hamas’ solidarity with bin Laden?
We want a two-state solution. This includes Israel being able to live without fear within secure borders. That is part of Germany’s raison d’être. And it also includes the Palestinians having our support to live in their own state. That is why the statements by Hamas, idealizing and making a hero of one of the most brutal terrorists of our age, are so truly worrying. They clearly show what kind of organization Hamas is. We will take this up again with President Abbas next week.
It’s said that the information that finally put the USA on bin Laden’s trail came from Guantanamo.Do you see any occasion to reassess the prison camp or George W. Bush’s policy?
We won’t know what information led to finding bin Laden until all the relevant papers have been evaluated. So the history will be written in a few years’ time. But one thing is clear: we share President Obama’s critical view of Guantanamo. It is our view that in a democracy there should be no prisons which ignore the state’s own legal order.
Are you still confident that Obama will close the camp before the end of this legislative period?
We are encouraging the President to turn his critical stance on Guantanamo into practical policy. But of course I am also aware of the resistance he is facing from within America to such a move.
Reproduced by kind permission of Die Welt. Questions: Thorsten Jungholt