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"De-escalate the situation now"

05.10.2012 - Interview

Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle talks about the after-effects of the Syrian mortar bomb hitting a Turkish border village, the Iranian nuclear programme and the Greek situation. This interview appeared in several publications, in some cases abridged, including the Passauer Neue Presse of 5 October 2012.

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Turkey has launched retaliation against Syria; the Turkish parliament has approved a mandate for military action. Is Prime Minister Erdoğan playing with fire?

It is absolutely understandable that people in Turkey are outraged at this violence from Syria. We are also outraged and shocked at the death of the Turkish family. We are greatly concerned. This renewed attack by Syria on Turkey’s territorial integrity is a very serious issue. Nonetheless, we urge Turkey to be level-headed in its response.

The Turkish Government has repeatedly and thanklessly asked the international community for support in its conflict with Syria.

Germany stands shoulder to shoulder with Turkey, our partner in NATO, as ever. What needs to happen now, though, is for the situation to be de‑escalated. The events of the last few hours on the Turkish-Syrian border ought to spur all the UN Security Council members to rethink their positions and finally get beyond the impasse in the Council.

So taking military action in Syria is still not an option?

NATO has condemned the violence originating in Syria and sent a clear message of solidarity. Solidarity and prudence are what is needed now. I would also point out that Turkey consulted its NATO partners immediately. This shows that the Turkish Government is not only conscious of its duty to its own citizens but also intends to fulfil the responsibilities it bears as a member of the Alliance.

What chance is there now of the Security Council being released from the Russian and Chinese stalemate?

It’s a good sign that Russia has added its voice to those condemning the killing of the Turkish family and calling on Syria to apologize. Those who have been preventing action in the Security Council should now realize that the longer the Syrian conflict remains unresolved, the greater the risk of it engulfing the entire region. Russia and China ought to take the recent tensions on the Turkish-Syrian border as an opportunity to rethink their stance in the Security Council. We need a political solution and a fresh start for Syria.

The Turkish Government has repeatedly called for a safe zone for refugees on Syrian territory, which would be controlled by an international authority. The suggestion has been rejected so far – should it be re‑examined?

We are prioritizing de‑escalation. I’m not going to fan the flames by joining conversations about military options. Over the last few months, Germany has been delivering more humanitarian aid in Syria and its neighbours than almost any other country.

Conditions in Syria and the humanitarian situation there are becoming more and more extreme. Should Germany join those taking in refugees?

Our priority has to be to provide help on the ground to people driven from their homes. They don’t want to leave their country for ever; they want to get back home as quickly as possible and help construct a new Syria. That said, I’m not ruling out the possibility of Germany taking in refugees from Syria. That’s a decision we could only make in conjunction with the UN and the EU. We will be continuing our committed work to help the Syrian refugees.

Tensions are continuing to rise in the dispute with Tehran over nuclear capabilities. Is there a risk that it might escalate in the shadow of the violence in Syria?

The most recent reports from Iran show that the sanctions are working. A diplomatic and political solution is possible, and it is still the best option. Together with our partners, we are prepared, as before, to engage in meaningful negotiations with Iran. If Iran is not prepared to do so, we will again tighten our sanctions policy. It is not acceptable for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Turning to Greece, there is bad news coming out of Athens. Does the Greek Government need more time for its reforms and austerity targets?

The troika will be submitting its report on the actual situation in Greece shortly. Then we’ll know the facts and be able to make decisions accordingly. I support the Samaras Government’s reform policy. Greece has to consolidate if it is to re‑emerge from the vale of tears it is currently in. That would be good news for Europe.

This interview was conducted by Andreas Herholz and reproduced by kind permission of the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

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