Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks about negotiations regarding the Iranian nuclear programme, the ceasefire in Syria, protecting intellectual property, the commitment of German foreign policy to boosting the economy and Germany’s role in the Middle East.Interview published in the Handelsblatt on 16 April 2012
The first negotiations with Tehran since the breaking off of talks on Iran’s nuclear programme took place at the weekend.What is your evaluation of these talks? Can a military strike against Iran still be prevented?
We saw in Istanbul that the path of negotiation is difficult but possible. The atmosphere of the negotiations was constructive. This is positive, as we want a political solution to the conflict over the Iranian nuclear programme. What is vital now is to make real progress on substantive issues in the planned follow-up meetings. Everyone needs to be aware that the situation is serious and that only serious political efforts free of tactical manoeuvring can defuse it.
So what compromises can the Western side make? Perhaps, for example, the right to low-enriched uranium?
Nobody has ever disputed Iran’s right to the civilian use of nuclear energy. On the contrary, we Germans have repeatedly offered Iran support with civilian uses of nuclear energy. What we cannot accept is for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. This is not only a matter of Israel’s security. The stability of the entire region and the preservation of the world’s security architecture are at stake. A nuclear-armed Iran would directly trigger a regional arms race, which is what we need to prevent.
In Syria the Assad regime has finally agreed to a ceasefire.Will the ceasefire hold or will war break out after all?
The situation is very fragile and there continue to be violations of the ceasefire. Unfortunately we can’t be sure whether the ceasefire will hold in the long run. The regime in Damascus has the responsibility of stopping the violence – fully and in all locations. We need to keep exerting pressure, including time pressure, so that Kofi Annan’s six-point plan is implemented and the situation becomes more stable. The UN Security Council’s decision to send an observer mission was an important step. The risks remain high, but we need to do everything possible to help the transition to a political process succeed.
But you reject the possibility of military intervention like in Libya?
It would be rash to treat the countries of the Arab world as if they were all the same. The situation varies greatly from country to country. What has to be done in Syria is not only end the violence and bring about political change but also prevent a proxy war in the region which could set the entire region alight.
In Germany the Pirate Party has called copyright law into question.What are your thoughts on this?
I travel around the world a lot, and one of the things I do is call for protection of intellectual property. The billions in damages that the German economy suffers as a result of product piracy need to be reduced incrementally. If Germany is demanding protection of intellectual property in other countries and going around the world combating product piracy – and rightly so – it makes very little sense for calls to abolish the right to intellectual property to be back in fashion in our own country.
So the Pirates’ demands would have negative ramifications for German foreign policy?
I think the protection of intellectual property at home and abroad needs to be a key concern of Germany as an export nation. This a matter both of preserving our prosperity and of cultural diversity. Many writers, artists and inventors lose their ability to earn a living when the protection of intellectual property is undermined on the Internet.
How, then, would you explain the Pirates’ growing popularity?
I call upon private industry, the cultural sphere and intellectuals to stand against the current fashion of calling intellectual property into question. Germany has no raw materials. We live from the marketing of our ideas and the global sale of our intellectual property. If we call into question the protection of intellectual property in our own country, we have very little credibility campaigning internationally for the protection of copyrights.
In the Handelsblatt business associations have been complaining increasingly about the lack of German Government support for German companies in sensitive regions such as the Arab world. Why aren’t you doing more about this?
At the Federal Foreign Office we receive a lot of encouragement for having made the boosting of the economy a key aim of German foreign policy. The more than 200 German missions abroad have been clearly charged with representing the legitimate economic interests of our country and specifically opening doors for businesses. When I first took office this was criticized as if we were degrading the noble institution of diplomacy by putting it in the service of filthy lucre. But the critics have since grasped that Germany’s influence in the world is largely dependent on its economic strength.
Nonetheless, you and the Chancellor face growing criticism for showing too little presence in the region.
I cannot let that comment stand, neither regarding the Chancellor nor regarding me. I’ve made 18 visits to the Middle East. That’s probably a record.
But many German businesspeople remember an era when Chancellor Schröder was much more active in the region.
... perhaps with more hoopla. No, that’s not how I see it. Considering the practical progress in visa policy alone which I have instigated at the Federal Foreign Office.
Interview conducted by Mathias Brüggmann. Reproduced by kind permission of the Handelsblatt.