“Hamas is responsible for this latest escalation”

16.11.2012 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in an interview with Deutschlandfunk on the German-Russian intergovernmental consultations and the escalating situation in Gaza and southern Israel. Broadcast on 16 November 2012


If the relationship between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin is reportedly not all sunshine, this is not due to a language problem. As Merkel is known to speak Russian and Putin German, they do not really need an interpreter. Since becoming Chancellor, however, Angela Merkel has consistently criticized democracy deficits in Russia. And now, just before her departure for Moscow, the German Bundestag has passed a resolution urging her not to mince her words with Putin. The language of the resolution was more outspoken than the Chancellor would apparently have liked. Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will be on board the plane for Moscow, which will be taking off shortly.Good morning, Mr Westerwelle.

Good morning.

This resolution we’ve just been hearing about, do you feel this German Bundestag resolution is helpful for your visit to Moscow?

This is a critical resolution. But it’s also constructive. And it’s inspired by a desire and a determination to see relations between Germany and Russia develop and thrive. And it’s a positive thing when Bundestag members take a keen interest in our relations with Russia.

Is it true, Mr Westerwelle, that the Federal Foreign Office wanted to tone the resolution down?

In the parliamentary groups and indeed, according to my information, also among their individual members there were discussions and deliberations on the text of the motion, what was the right language, the right wording to use. And then, at the request also of various individuals, the Federal Foreign Office came up with proposals. The final text was a joint effort. But let me emphasize once again that we’re talking here about a resolution passed by the German Bundestag, not the Federal Government. We greatly appreciate the keen interest the German Bundestag takes in German-Russian relations. We as the Federal Government take a clear line here. On the one hand, we obviously won’t shy away from criticism where developments inside Russia are concerned. On the other hand, we’re strongly in favour of intensifying the strategic partnership with Russia. Russia is our neighbour and will remain our neighbour. It’s our partner and will remain our partner.

Do these two things go together, Mr Westerwelle? Wagging fingers at the Russian Government and intensifying the partnership?

The two things have to go together. For it’s now crystal clear that we all have a massive stake in developments in Russia and relations with Russia. We have a common interest in cooperating not only in economic matters – think of energy or German investment in Russia – but also in political matters, in the conduct of international affairs. Our views differ about what the UN Security Council should be doing about Syria, for example. Both in Moscow and in New York I’ve repeatedly made this clear. In other areas, however, we cooperate closely and effectively. When it comes to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, for example, we’re working hand in hand. Here we see eye to eye with Russia: this is something which cannot be allowed to happen.

Let’s come back briefly to the Bundestag resolution. The Russian side says many of the things the resolution calls for are already happening or now in the pipeline.Have we somehow failed to notice what’s happening in Moscow?

I don’t want to go into the details of the resolution now. This was a sovereign act of the German Bundestag. I speak here for the Federal Government, a different constitutional organ. We appreciate how intensively the German Bundestag has conducted this whole debate. As the Federal Government, however, it’s obviously also our job to ensure that criticism is possible, that criticism of both domestic and international developments can be voiced on matters such as policy towards Syria, for example, or developments inside Russia. But at the same time we need to keep the right balance here. And I strongly advise us to be clear about where our own interests lie. It’s obviously in our own interest to intensify our strategic partnership with Russia. Especially when opinions differ, it’s better to cultivate contact than stay silent. And if we don’t keep the balance right, we’ll get nowhere at all, since dialogue won’t be possible, Russia will batten down the hatches, so to speak. So it’s crucial to carry on talking and not break off contact.

Does that also apply to the crisis now unfolding between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip? Do we need Russia to help resolve the problem?

Yes, that’s an important example of where the international community needs to work together. In Moscow we’ll of course be discussing the tensions in Gaza and the strikes against southern Israel. This is a highly dangerous situation, an extremely dangerous escalation of the acute tensions that already exist in the region.

Yesterday evening you talked to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. Did you agree with him that what Israel is doing here is sensible and a form of self-defence?

The reason for this escalation are the rocket strikes from Gaza that have caused great damage and loss of life in Israel and for which Hamas bears responsibility. Israel has the right to defend itself and it has the right, too, to protect its citizens. At the same time everything possible must be done to prevent any further escalation and above all any harm to the civilian population. That’s why I advise and call on all concerned to be mindful of their responsibilities, this ominous cycle must be broken. The crucial thing now is to stay cool and do whatever’s possible to deescalate the situation. The responsibility for this latest escalation lies with Hamas: for these rocket strikes there’s absolutely no justification and they must stop immediately. That’s the only way to end the violence.

One wonders only why the Israeli operation should be launched now? Attacks by Hamas are nothing new, after all.

But there are apparently clear pointers to this address and the number and severity of incidents has also increased.

Do you anticipate that the military intervention will be called off or have you told Liberman you would like to see that happen?

I won’t talk here on the radio about what I discussed in confidence with my Israeli opposite number. But you can be sure of one thing: both Germany and Israel fully agree that rocket strikes launched from Gaza by a terrorist organization like Hamas cannot be tolerated. This is something to which Israel cannot turn a blind eye. And it’s important to realize, let me emphasize once more – I’ve been in Gaza myself, after all, I was the first Western foreign minister to visit Gaza again – that of course what Israel has been doing, too, the steps it’s also taken to ease the blockade have been abused apparently. That’s something that must also be recognized.

You mean the weapons being supplied to the Gaza Strip?

For example, but of course also the use of these weapons. Anyone who’s been there knows how vulnerable and sensitive the situation is on the ground, how small the distances are, how close Gaza is to southern Israel. It’s literally right next door. That Israel has a duty to protect its citizens, including the children and families living in this area is something that must be taken very seriously into account in any discussion of the situation there. And let me once again make myself very clear here. The responsibility for this escalation lies with Hamas, a terrorist organization whose totally unfounded attacks have given rise to the escalation we’re now seeing.

Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle this morning on Deutschlandfunk – thank you, good bye and have a good trip to Moscow, Mr Westerwelle.

Thank you.

The questions were put by Friedbert Meurer. Reproduced here by kind permission of Deutschlandfunk.

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