“Opportunity for better international cooperation”

22.03.2012 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the UN Security Council Presidential Statement on Syria. Broadcast on Deutschlandfunk on 22 March 2012.


So, the UN Security Council has given its backing to Syria Envoy Kofi Annan’s peace efforts. The 15 members adopted a statement in New York yesterday, calling on Damascus to “implement fully and immediately” the peace plan put forward by Annan. The Security Council is appealing to the Syrian Government and opposition to work in good faith with the Special Envoy and to implement fully and immediately his six point proposal, it says in this statement. Annan’s peace plan envisages, among other things, a ceasefire supervised by the UN, access for humanitarian aid workers, the release of prisoners and the withdrawal of government troops from opposition strongholds. Although the statement has less diplomatic weight than a resolution, it proved very difficult for the Security Council members to reach agreement on the wording. The Security Council condemned the violence against civilians and human rights violations in Syria in a statement back in August. The efforts to adopt a resolution – that is a far more effective instrument – have foundered to date due to the Russian and Chinese veto. On the line now I have Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Good morning.

Good morning, Mr Heinemann.

Mr Westerwelle, the statement talks of “good faith”. How much good faith do you think there is in the presidential palace in Damascus?

What counts are actions, and so far the violence inflicted on people in Syria has continued unabated. That’s why we want to adopt new sanctions against Syria at the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers tomorrow. At the same time, it’s worth noting that Russia’s impatience with the Syrian leadership is growing. Assad can no longer automatically rely on Russia to back him despite his use of violence against his own people and that could accelerate the regime’s erosion. That’s important, and that’s why we’re pursuing a policy of sanctions and international isolation.

Let’s turn to Russia. Thomas Schmidt, our correspondent in New York, said in a report today that a statement, a presidential statement, is actually just a kind of diplomatic harrumph. To stay with this image, is the frog out of the UN’s throat?

Of course, it’s quite right that this doesn’t yet represent a real change of course. However, it opens up an opportunity for the states involved to move closer together in the Security Council, to move closer together on Syria. And we’ll leave no stone unturned in our efforts to cooperate with Russia for the benefit of people in Syria. The statement adopted was important. We believe more would have been better, but more wasn’t possible. That’s why we opted for a course of action which will now help people in practical terms. For the three goals, an end to the violence, full humanitarian access and peaceful political change in Syria, are also the goals of the European Union.

Do you believe then, Mr Westerwelle, that this statement could be followed by a resolution in the foreseeable future?

I don’t want to speculate on that. At any rate, I believe it’s crucial that the statement envisages regular briefings in the UN Security Council. The efforts of Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League’s Joint Special Envoy, will certainly be unequivocally supported. And even if the statement doesn’t represent a change of course by Russia, it does provide an opportunity for better international cooperation. For the decisive signal is the signal to Assad’s regime that it can’t rely on unconditional support or protection from Russia, no matter what it does. And that’s what was doable as this point in time, although it goes without saying that we would have liked more.

How do you think Damascus will react?

My impression is that this will certainly provide opportunities for the so called Yemeni model. By that I mean that there’s a chance for a fresh start in Syrian politics.

We’re working on that, for it’s quite clear that a regime like Assad’s regime which inflicts so much cruelty on its own people, so much repression and violence, has lost its legitimacy and, of course, has to come to an end.

The Guardian newspaper recently stated that it had got hold of hacked e mails by Assad and his family. The newspaper claimed, for example, that the President’s wife had ordered candlesticks, tables and chandeliers from London and Paris, while her fellow Syrians are being massacred. If these messages are genuine – and it’s impossible to say for sure if they are – it certainly doesn’t look as if the family’s knees are trembling with fear.

Yes, but of course a lot of propaganda is being made at the moment. I think we have to be very careful not to automatically believe that every report is completely true. At any rate, we’ll base our actions on facts. It’s a fact that the violence is continuing. It’s a fact that the UN Security Council has now issued a clear statement. It’s also a fact that we’ll continue our sanctions policy. Tomorrow we’ll adopt new sanctions, not only against the Assad regime but also against its supporters. At the end of the day, that’s all we can do at present. For we have two goals. On the one hand, we want of course to help people in Syria. We want to support them and their legitimate calls for democracy and respect for human rights. At the same time, however, we have to prevent the fire spreading. We have to prevent a proxy war in the region which could set the entire region alight. That’s why we’re right to work on both a diplomatic and political level. Although the statement we negotiated in New York yesterday certainly wasn’t a breakthrough, it did represent a crucial step towards finding a good solution. For what’s happened to date is truly terrible: more than 8000 people have been killed, including several hundred children. It goes without saying that it’s high time the international community reached a common position.

But presumably the situation in Syria won’t change. For without military support Libya’s Gaddafi, for example, would possibly still be in office. What chance do Assad’s adversaries have without military support?

I can only repeat what we decided yesterday in the United Nations. And the contribution made now by Kofi Annan, the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, is also important. I’d just like to point out that the situation is different in every country. A fire must not be allowed to start up. We have to ensure that we don’t end up dealing with a truly large scale proxy war in the region which could ignite the entire region. That’s why we have to continue along our chosen path. And this course now has the broad support of the 15 members of the Security Council. By the way, before that there was a vote in the UN General Assembly which showed that we are convinced that this course of action is right, and we want to continue it.

Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle, thank you very much for joining us, and good-bye.

Thank you.

The interview was conducted by Christoph Heinemann. Reproduced by kind permission of Deutschlandfunk.

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