“Russia on the wrong side of history”

12.03.2012 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle talks about Moscow’s stance on Syria. This interview appeared in the newspaper Die Welt on 12 March 2012.


You have said that Yemen could be an example for Syria with respect to peaceful power transfers. What exactly do you mean by that?

My foreign policy always favours political and diplomatic solutions. For all its problems, Yemen demonstrates that political solutions and a largely peaceful transfer of power are possible. Germany should do all we can to help see Yemen’s transition to stability and democracy driven forwards as planned.

We know that Yemen isn’t going to turn into some sort of Switzerland, but we don’t want another Somalia either. What are the odds of preventing another Somalia, of stopping Yemen becoming a failed state?

The people representing Yemeni civil society whom I spoke to in Sana’a were talking about a “cautious optimism”, and that’s how I interpret the mood as well. Of course problems remain unresolved in the aftermath of President Saleh stepping down and President Hadi being elected. The separatists in Southern Yemen, terrorist networks, clashes with the Houthis in the north, the divergent interests of different tribes – the problems are still piled high. But it is in our own interest to provide Yemen with the support it needs to avoid going down the same road as Somalia. Stability in Yemen would contribute to stability in the entire region – and if we want to see what instability looks like, we need only look at the piracy prevalent off the coast of Somalia.

Do you really think that can be managed by the people who now hold the reins in Yemen, politicians with their roots in the era of now-toppled President Saleh?

Yes, I think they can manage it – but of course actions speak louder than words. We have decided that the Embassy is going to resume its activities. We are now getting development cooperation going again. We have invited experts to Germany and are providing advice on the process of drafting a constitution. In Berlin, we are playing host to representatives of Yemeni politics and civil society. All of this is intended to help ensure that a balanced political system is established and reconciliation succeeds. Some people in Germany may wonder what internal conflicts like Yemen’s have to do with us. But you just have to look at how much energy we need to put into fighting terrorism and piracy to see that we have our own strategic interest in being far-sighted enough to pursue a policy of stabilization.

Presumably that also applies to the fight against the Yemeni section of the Islamist terror organization al-Qaida …

This, too, is extremely significant far beyond the borders of Yemen itself.

Let’s turn to the second leg of your trip: Saudi Arabia. As an influential regional player, it has an important role to play both in the conflict over Syria and in the second major problem area, Iran.

Saudi Arabia is a member of the G20. It is the region’s largest economy and is a pivotal player in the Arab League. The Arab League has a crucial role to play in putting an end to the violence and bringing about political change in Syria. Saudi Arabia enjoys a lot of influence and is just as concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme as the other Gulf States. I share that concern. And we of course also have an interest in maintaining good economic relations between our two countries.

Is it possible that Riyadh would not mind Israel or even the US launching the much-discussed pre-emptive strike against the Iranian nuclear programme?

I support US President Barack Obama’s position of pushing for a political and diplomatic solution. Discussions about military intervention are counterproductive, as they only serve to undermine the sanctions policy just as it is beginning to take effect.

Do you think President Bashar al Assad definitely has to be brought to justice, or could you countenance him gaining political asylum in, say, Moscow – like Tunisia’s ex-President Ben Ali in Riyadh – so that the horrific war against the Syrian people can finally be ended?

After this violence deployed against his own people, there can be no future in politics for Assad. Our priority is finding a solution that stops the violence, helps the people and paves the way for political change.

The third destination on your trip is New York. The last UN Security Council resolution on Syria foundered on the Chinese and Russian veto. At the moment it seems as if the Chinese were slowly coming round. Where do the Russians stand?

The signals we are getting from the Russian Foreign Minister’s talks at the Arab League in Cairo are not yet what you’d call encouraging. We are using the time between now and the Security Council session and our meeting in New York for renewed efforts to persuade Russia and China. Russia should understand that this is not about weakening its position in the region. Of course Moscow has strategic interests in the region and wants to safeguard them. We need to convince Russia that it will be on the wrong side of history if it carries on preventing a Security Council resolution.

This interview was conducted by Dietrich Alexander and reproduced by kind permission of Die Welt.

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