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We are aware of great human suffering

06.09.2012 - Interview

Interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the debate on the European debt crisis, developments in Syria and the controversy surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme.Published in the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung and the Nordsee-Zeitung on 6 September 2012.

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Minister, you’ve been getting lots of good press recently – in part because you have defended our European heritage and distanced yourself very clearly from the CSU’s diatribes against the Greeks.Has the Coalition suffered further damage?

I have not vented my displeasure at some of the comments made in order to fuel a political controversy here in Germany. I am deeply worried about the impact of such statements beyond our borders. On my travels I have seen how the latest jarring remarks in the debate on Europe have damaged our country’s reputation. Made in Germany stands for quality, reliability and respect. I am very glad that CSU leader Horst Seehofer has explicitly said he agrees.

FDP leader Philipp Rösler has also run out of patience with Athens.Is this an issue you and Rösler disagree on?

It is not fair to mix Philipp Rösler’s comments in with the rest of the anti-European medley. We all know that our jobs, our prosperity and our ability to hold our own on the world market depend on European cohesion. I do not think there are any differences of opinion on this within the FDP leadership.

Even in the heart of Europe, sceptics are gaining ground.Nationalists could win the elections next week in the Netherlands …

Let’s wait and see what happens. But it’s true, populists and nationalists throughout Europe are cooking up a nasty brew on the fires of the crisis, calling for the repatriation of all kinds of policies. I urge you all to resist their calls. Such trends are very dangerous. For it is obvious that Europe can in the long term only hold its own against the new powers emerging in Asia and elsewhere if we stick together. Given the speed with which globalization is progressing, the next ten years will determine whether we will make it or not.

Germany has held the monthly Presidency of the UN Security Council since 1 September.What issues do you want to focus on?

The biggest challenge is posed by the conflicts in the Middle East – the civil war in Syria and the continued refusal by Iran to fully open its nuclear programme to scrutiny.

It’s said that Israel could attack Iran before the US elections in early November.Israel accuses the world powers of not setting limits to Iran’s nuclear activities.You’re going to Israel this weekend …

The situation is very serious. I am very worried indeed. I can well understand that, given the vulnerability of their country, there are people in Israel who are concerned about their very existence when Israel’s destruction is preached in Iran and this large regional neighbour continues to work on a nuclear programme with no regard for international law or political responsibility. I urge the Iranian Government to finally comply with its international obligations.

What precisely do you want?

If the Iranian nuclear programme is civilian in nature, and no nuclear weapons are being built, wouldn’t it be the simplest and most rational solution for the regime in Tehran to grant IAEA inspectors full access to all its nuclear facilities as soon as possible? Time is running out.

Incidentally, a nuclear-armed Iran would not just pose a threat to Israel, but would also upend the security balance in the region as a whole and have a major international impact. There’s a risk that it could spark off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

The hopes for a quick end to the civil war in Syria are receding.The new UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi has said that we’re not doing enough.Isn’t that a damning indictment of the international community?

But he’s right. The obstructive stance adopted by Russia and China in the UN Security Council is depressing when you think that over 20,000 people are now dead. I call on Russia and China to remove their protection from the Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad at long last. His time is up.

More than 200,000 refugees have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. You have said that it is now conceivable that Germany might take in some Syrians …

I will be visiting a camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan the day after tomorrow. It’s true, I wouldn’t rule out the idea that we might take in Syrian refugees here in Germany. I have already spoken to the Minister of the Interior about the issue. Both he and I are aware of the great human suffering there. But it makes no sense for Germany to decide such matters on its own. They have to be discussed with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the host countries in the region and our European partners. We must also remember that a lot more people have been displaced within Syria. Our priority must therefore be providing help on the ground. We have made available 22 million euros to help refugees.

In the ’70s Germany took in Vietnamese boat people and in the ’90s granted asylum to Bosnian war refugees as a sign of humanity

We will try first of all to solve the problems on the ground, not least because the overwhelming majority of Syrians want to stay near their homes and go back as soon as possible. But if this does not prove feasible, I have no doubt that the Germans will open their arms to the Syrians.

Have our relations with Russia suffered a lasting setback because of Vladimir Putin’s support for Syria?

I am not in favour of talking less to Russia, or indeed of cutting off contact entirely. We have a strategic partnership with Russia, as we do with China. We have given voice to our serious disagreements regarding Syria, but unfortunately so far with no concrete result.

Interview conducted by Beate Tenfelde. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

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