Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle talks about the Arab Spring, the terrorist attacks in France, international engagement in Afghanistan and the dispute about the Iranian nuclear programme. Interview published in Focus on 26 March 2012
You expect the Arab Spring to usher in a new era of freedom. But in fact the free elections are being won by Islamists. Is Europedeluding itself?
You have to draw a clear distinction between Islamic-democratic forces and Islamist extremists. The situation is different in each of the Arab Spring countries. We want to see these countries embrace freedom and diversity, including religious tolerance as one crucial touchstone. I have raised the issue of the future of the Coptic Christians in Egypt on various occasions. Just as the Christian-democratic parties arose in Europe, firmly rooted in democracy, liberty and plurality, it is to be hoped that Islamic-democratic parties will emerge in the Arab world.
Aren’t you shocked by the latest terrorist attacks in France? Al‑Qaida is back.
The threat posed by al‑Qaida and other terrorists never went away. With luck and hard work Germany has so far remained more or less unharmed. Our soldiers are in Afghanistan in order to contain the threat posed by terrorism – not just to dig wells and build roads, although that too is right and proper.
President Karzai of Afghanistanwants the ISAF troops to leave in 2013. Is he chucking us out?
He wants Afghan forces to take over responsibility more quickly, especially in rural areas. That is sensible. Our allies – the Americans and the Afghans – have assured me that we should stick to the internationally agreed timetable for the full withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014. We Germans will not stay any longer than our allies, and we will not stay a day longer than the Afghans want us to. During my term of office, the drawdown of combat forces from Afghanistan was started. We will now bring the mission to a responsible and orderly end. Afghanistan must not be allowed to become a safe haven for international terrorists ever again.
The German people also want the soldiers to come home. Will the broad parliamentary majority in support of the mission remain stable, even in 2013 – election year?
The popular mood is not the proper criterion. Germany’s security interests are what counts. I can’t say whether the Opposition will try to campaign on the issue. So far the SPD has remembered that it was in government for eight of the ten years of the mission. Unfortunately, the Greens, who were part of the coalition government when it was launched, seem to have forgotten their role in the matter.
Is the next mission abroad coming up when Israelhits Iranian nuclear sites in a pre‑emptive strike and Irantakes its revenge?
We are working towards a political and diplomatic solution. Our foreign policy aims to prevent wars. The sanctions against Iran are working. The international community is in agreement that we cannot have a nuclear-armed Iran. This affects not only Israel’s security, but the security of the world.
Chancellor Merkel has said Germanywill come to Israel’s assistance if it is attacked. How far does that offer go? Does it include the transfer of arms? Or the deployment of soldiers?
Israel’s right to exist and the country’s security are unshakeable principles underlying German policy. This has been the case for decades. It speaks for itself; it needs no further explanation.
Yes, it does. The situation is getting more precarious all the time.
I advise you not to push this public debate about military intervention. Sanctions will only succeed if they are backed by as many states as possible. And so this debate on military options is counterproductive.
Questions posed by Michael Jach and Olaf Opitz. Reproduced with the kind permission of Focus magazine.