An interview with Foreign Minister Westerwelle for the Flensburger Tageblatt newspaper

19.03.2012 - Interview

Foreign Minister Westerwelle talks about Afghanistan, Syriaand Iranin an interview published in the Flensburger Tageblatt of 19 March 2012.

Minister, President Karzai of Afghanistanis calling for international troops to be withdrawn sooner than planned. Will our soldiers be coming home next year already?

German soldiers will not stay in Afghanistan any longer than our allies and the Afghan Government want them to. We have, while I have been in office, got the withdrawal under way. We now need to conduct it in a responsible manner – since we don’t want Afghanistan to revert to being a safe haven for the world’s terrorists and therefore a threat to our security in Europe.

So if the Afghan President insists, then the withdrawal really will happen sooner?

We have reached agreement at international level that all foreign combat troops are to be withdrawn by the end of 2014. If the Afghan President proposes that the troops should leave rural regions more quickly, this is perfectly in line with our interests. It is particularly difficult for our soldiers to provide security in remote areas. The Afghan security forces we are training up should take on that task as soon as possible. I anticipate that a little more than half of Afghanistan’s territory will pass into the jurisdiction of the Afghan security services during this spring.

Over the past several years, the West has had to incrementally reduce its goals in Afghanistan. What is left that the international community might achieve, given how little time remains between now and 2014?

We can’t stay in Afghanistan until it becomes a kind of Switzerland in Central Asia. What we do need to do though is make sure that fundamental human rights – including women’s rights – are upheld, that good governance is sufficiently established and, above all, that Afghanistan has its own security structures which offer robust resistance to terrorism and violence. Let me say again that we are not in Afghanistan primarily to dig wells or build schools and hospitals – as right and important as those things are. We went to Afghanistan first and foremost because we need to protect our own security. We need to prevent attacks being perpetrated in our country. To that end, it is crucial for Afghanistan to engage in internal reconciliation and for former fighters to be reintegrated. And that it what we are working on. There is no military solution.

Let’s turn to Syria. The conflict there has now lasted a whole year. We are receiving news of fresh atrocities on a daily basis. How long can the international community watch these murders and do nothing?

The international community is not doing nothing. We are working at three levels in pursuit of three objectives. Firstly, we are seeking an end to the violence. Secondly, we are trying to enable humanitarian assistance. Thirdly, we are pushing for political transformation. We are doing that in concert with our allies by means of our policy of sanctions targeting the Assad regime. We are also doing committed work in the United Nations, albeit as yet unsuccessfully due to Russia and China’s veto in the Security Council. And we are furthermore pursuing those objectives in the Friends of the Syrian People, a contact group I myself initiated which serves, for example, to support the Syrian opposition.

All of that seems to have had little success so far. Do you therefore consider it feasible that there will be military intervention targeting the Assad regime?

The numbers of people deserting Assad’s system show that his regime is starting to crumble. And my Russian opposite number Sergey Lavrov has now expressed criticism of the Syrian regime, which I hope marks the beginning of a policy change in Moscow as regards Assad. I take no part in speculation about military intervention. Part of the task is to prevent the fire spreading throughout the region in the form of a proxy war. As Yemen has demonstrated, political solutions may be difficult, but they are possible.

The world is also holding its breath with respect to another conflict: what are the chances of Israelattacking nuclear facilities in Iranin the near future?

I refuse to speculate about that. I’ll tell you what I think of the discussion, though. I think it is counterproductive, since the sanctions policy is finally starting to bite. That is why it was important for President Obama to reiterate a few days ago that he advocates a political, diplomatic solution. Calls for military solutions have become too frequent and too prompt. That gives rise to the impression that it is possible to conduct a swift, surgical intervention with very few civilian casualties. History – including recent history – has taught us that this is not so.


Reproduced by kind permission of the Flensburger Tageblatt

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