Interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Syria and Iran, the Middle East Peace Process and Germany's role in Europe. Published in Der Spiegel 07/2012.
Minister Westerwelle, can you explain the behavior of your friend Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, on the question of Syria?
In my assessment, Russia is concerned about losing influence in the region. That's why it regrettably voted against the Syria resolution in the United Nations Security Council. We have to make it clear to Russia that it doesn't jeopardize its own strategic interests by placing itself on the right side of history.
It seems a long way from arriving at that insight.
My esteemed colleague Sergey Lavrov's visit to Damascus was certainly not a successful one. He didn't deliver the kinds of messages I would have hoped for.
You're putting it mildly. Lavrov claimed that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is “completely committed to the task of stopping violence.”
During the negotiations in recent days, the Russians repeatedly stated that they felt that the violence wasn't just coming from the regime, but also from the opposition. I have made it clear, together with (US Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton and others, that we cannot accept such a relativizing view. It was the Assad regime that responded to the justified protests for more freedom with violence and more violence. The things that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told me about the violence in Syria are so repulsive that I don't even want to repeat them to you.
What happens if the Russians still refuse to come around?
We will not give up, despite the failed resolution. We are currently preparing the next round of European Union sanctions. We have proposed establishing a contact group of the friends of democratic Syria, to begin building political pressure. Also, I'm not willing to rule out that we will return to the United Nations, be it in the Security Council or the General Assembly. We support a proposal to establish a joint Arab League and UN observer mission, as well as the appointment of a UN special envoy for Syria.
Turkey is considering setting up protective zones for refugees along its border -- on Syrian territory.
We are already providing humanitarian assistance. It's clear that we want to do more to help the refugees. We will discuss the matter with Turkey, because it is accepting by far the largest number of refugees.
Do you support a protective zone on Syrian territory, which would require military protection?
These are questions one discusses when concrete plans exist.
Who is supposed to develop these plans?
We carefully coordinate everything we do with the Arab League, which takes its political leadership role very seriously. This is a positive development that has emerged in the shadow of these sad events.
But you must have your own ideas about what happens if the Russians and the Chinese stick to their veto.
I just said that we are doing everything we can to increase pressure. We're doing this at the bilateral level. I've decided that we will not send a new ambassador to Syria for the time being. Four members of the Syrian Embassy in Berlin were expelled.
Does your verbal decisiveness on the Syrian question have something to do with the fact that it essentially comes with no strings attached, because no one is calling for a military intervention, in which Germany might have to participate?
We were also not neutral in Libya. However, we decided that we were not going to take part in the intervention there with German troops.
Why isn't Syria being treated as aggressively as Iran? The Americans and the Europeans have imposed drastic sanctions against Iran, even without a UN vote.
We can already look back on 11 rounds of sanctions against Syria, and more will follow. There is another issue in the case of Iran. If the country were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would not only pose a substantial threat to the security situation in the region, including that of our ally, Israel. It would also seriously jeopardize the security architecture throughout the rest of the world.
Do you believe that Iran would use these weapons?
It wouldn't have to. Imagine if a nuclear-armed Iran had threatened to block shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. That's why we decided on unprecedented sanctions, which, in my impression, seem to be taking effect.
And what if Iran remains unimpressed? In that case, based on your analysis, one would have to say that the shift in the world's power structure would be so severe that it might even be necessary to prevent it with military means.
We shouldn't engage in an escalation of words. We approved the sanctions because we are convinced that they can work.
Is this also a message to Israel? A military strike is being openly discussed there.
During my visit last week, the Israeli government was in fact very appreciative of Germany's role in bringing about the sanctions, as well as of the sanctions per se.
That doesn't mean that it isn't preparing an attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities.
If the sanctions are to work, as many countries as possible have to participate. I can clearly imagine the reaction of the countries we are now seeking to influence if we were to discuss a military intervention at the same time. It can only compromise matters.
The situation in the region is in flux. The Palestinian organizations Hamas and Fatah have agreed to the formation of a joint government. Will you talk to this government, even though Hamas is part of it?
We will not talk to Hamas as long as it does not commit itself to nonviolence, Israel's right to exist and the previous agreements with Israel.
But you will talk to representatives of the Palestinian government?
We are in close contact with President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad. I hope that both men will continue to be our dialogue partners and key players for a long time to come. President Abbas has assured me that he will only accept ministers into the government who support his policies.
Is the agreement between Hamas and Fatah good news or bad news?
It's certainly good news for the Palestinian forces to be in agreement. But it all depends on what they are agreeing on.
The Palestinian agreement also calls for elections this year. Will you continue to talk to the government if Hamas wins the elections?
I told you what our basic position is. You also know that Hamas is still classified as a terrorist organization here in Europe.
You are very active in the Middle East. But when it comes to the most important issue in foreign policy, European policy, you, as foreign minister, have had little to say since the Lisbon Treaty.
You know, I wonder why my predecessor Joschka Fischer, who doesn't exactly have a small ego, agreed to that curtailment of his authority at the time. I'll ask him about it the next time I see him.
So what contribution can you still make in this crisis?
Ideas on the establishment of a stability union came from the Foreign Ministry. We played a key role in developing the fiscal pact. But I think there's more at issue: We must now open a new chapter in the integration of Europe. I also want to contribute to improving the image of Europe in Germany and the image of Germany in Europe, because when someone says: “Europe speaks German ...”
.. as Volker Kauder, the parliamentary leader of the Christian Democratic Union did ...
... then it can be misunderstood. By the way, Volker Kauder meant something completely different. I don't want a German Europe.
What do you want?
A European Germany. We should not believe that we will always be the strong man of Europe. Ten years ago, we were still seen as the sick man of Europe.
Is Germany becoming too dominant at the moment?
There is a tendency toward re-nationalization throughout Europe, which I oppose. Germany occasionally shows a tendency to boast, which concerns me. I don't think it's smart for us to shift the differences among German parties to the French election campaign.
You're referring to the chancellor's campaign assistance for French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
No, I advise all parties to treat every country in Europe with a measure of respectful restraint. We can say very serious things to our European partners, but we don't have to offend them. If we believe that it's necessary to swing the Teutonic club on a surge of great economic success, we will eventually discover that it isn't a club but a boomerang. Europe is not the answer to history. It is our community of fate for the future, politically, economically and culturally.
Should we allow the Greeks to decide what they want to do with the money from Germany?
I am more than dissatisfied with the political impasse in Greece in recent weeks. I'm also addressing the German opposition when I say this: You can't solve a debt crisis by constantly incurring new debts. Growth doesn't come from debt but from competitiveness.
Greece is getting a new infusion of cash once again, and yet hardly anyone believes that the country can still be saved. Is it time for an orderly default?
Greece's future is in the hands of the Greeks. They have to demonstrate that they are serious. It isn't enough to adopt reform programs. Instead, the reforms have to be implemented without delay -- not at some point in the future, but now.
The second aid package will presumably be more expensive than anticipated, partly because the Greeks haven't kept their promises. How much longer will the German public put up with this?
It's undoubtedly a moment of truth for Greece. If a sustainable and correct course is set in Athens now, Greece can expect our support -- but only then. There will be no more advance payments. Only actions count now.
Does Greece have to stay in the euro in any case?
That remains our clear goal.
Mr. Minister, we thank you for this interview.
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Spiegel. Interview conducted by Konstantin von Hammerstein and Ralf Neukirch. Translated by Christopher Sultan.