”Egypt is the key for change in the Arab world“
Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle on development in Egypt, the civil war in Syria and German arms export policy.Published in the Heilbronner Stimme on 4 March 2013.
As Foreign Minister you are having to deal with one hotbed after another at the moment.Do you feel like a crisis manager by now?
Both diplomacy and crisis management are required. It goes without saying that crises are very challenging. The developments in the Arab world are a constant focus of my work, as is their impact on the Middle East peace process. Just take the example of the most recent conflict in Gaza, where we were able to help bring about the ceasefire.
How do you view the role of Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, who for a long time was a pillar of hope for the West?
We should give the revolution in Egypt a chance, even though we are not at all enamoured by some of what we have heard in the past months. Egypt is the key to the success of the revolution in the Arab world. It has crucial significance, not only due to the size of its population and its economic clout, but also because of the role of Cairo as a cultural and political hub. It would be wrong to take the setbacks within the country as a reason to turn our backs. On the contrary, we need even more engagement and even more opportunities for partnership to promote democracy.
Another trouble spot is the war the Assad regime in Syria is waging against its own population.Hasn’t diplomacy failed here so far?
Unfortunately the situation in Syria does indeed remain appalling. However, it is also true to say that we are pursuing two goals. First, we aim to help the population and the opposition represented by the National Coalition to overcome the war that is tearing the country apart, has cost many thousands of lives and made hundreds of thousands of people refugees. Secondly, we must also aim to prevent a conflagration in the entire region which could spread to one country after another.
How real is the danger of chemical warfare if the regime in Syria is forced further into a corner?
Weapons of mass destruction, which include chemical weapons, must not be deployed by anyone. This applies to the regime, but it also applies to radical forces among the rebels. It is crucial that we distinguish between them and the responsible forces, who are vital for a political new start in Syria.
Criticism keeps flaring up regarding German arms exports to Arab countries which clearly have problems with human rights.Shouldn’t Germany exercise more restraint in this area?
Germany’s arms export policy is restrictive and shall remain so. In 2011 arms exports as a proportion of total exports were the lowest they had been since 2002. At the same time I am convinced that in the case of arms exports we must also always keep an eye on our allies’ strategic security interests. The security threat posed by a potential Iranian nuclear weapons programme must not be underestimated. It should be clear to everyone that not all aspects of such a sensitive issue can be discussed publicly. That is why in the last decades, regardless of the politics of the relevant Federal Government, only the Reports on Military Equipment Exports have been fully available for public scrutiny and not the preliminary enquiries.
Do you really have no qualms about supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia?
I don’t wish to talk about individual countries and ongoing proceedings because as members of the Federal Security Council we are committed to maintaining confidentiality. But I can talk about the Report on Military Equipment Exports. If, for example, it mentions that goods of this nature have been exported for border management in Saudi Arabia, I think this is legitimate, all things considered. If the Bundestag decides that it wants more parliamentary involvement behind closed doors, as it has with regard to the intelligence services, I am in favour of examining parliament initiatives to this end quite calmly, objectively and very seriously.
Questions: Siegfried Lambert.Reproduced by kind permission of the Heilbronner Stimme.