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“Doing all we can justify to support the Syrian opposition”

07.03.2013 - Interview

Foreign Minister Westerwelle on the European debt crisis and European support for Syria Published in the Tagesspiegel on 7 March 2013

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Foreign Minister, what would you say to encourage people to use their vote in the Bundestag election in the autumn?

This year’s Bundestag election is not just about Germany’s fate but also Europe’s.

So what do you see as the alternatives?

The ultimate question is whether we in Europe are going to continue the triad of solidarity, growth and budget consolidation or whether we are going to go back to the failed debt policy of bygone days and open the floodgates again. It was our excessive debt that caused the crisis. Yet some people still seem to think we can solve the debt crisis by making it easier to borrow.

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You also say that the way Europe deals with the crisis defines its position in the world. What exactly do you mean?

We have to prove to the world that Western democracies are able to draw the right conclusions from the debt crisis and focus again on solidity. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is right in saying the Agenda 2010 reforms must not be revoked. We need to stride forth in Europe, we need more competitiveness, more investment in education, training and infrastructure. The world is not sitting idly by, Asia and Latin America are making rapid progress. Take projects like the Berlin’s new airport. People around the world are shaking their heads in disbelief that the German capital Berlin is not able to complete such a project on schedule. The hold-up on the Berlin airport is damaging the “Made in Germany” label. We need to get faster in Germany if we want to stay ahead.

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Minister, let’s turn to foreign policy. Do you still see the opportunity for a political solution in Syria?

The situation in Syria is still appalling. The German Government wants to do its bit to ensure a political solution is reached despite all the difficulties. My advice is that we take seriously and support the political initiatives proposed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and those of the President of the National Coalition of the Syrian opposition. Sheikh Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the spokesman of the National Coalition, has said he is ready to enter into direct dialogue with representatives of the Syrian regime. That was a remarkable and important statement.

The EU wants to support the opposition more against Syria’s head of state Bashar al-Assad. What does it want to supply to the rebels?

The EU had good reasons not to lift the Syrian arms embargo. What we did was adapt the sanctions with effect from 1 March. Arms supplies always run the risk of causing an arms race, sliding the situation into a proxy war which could then engulf the entire region. Of course, we need to do all we can justify to support the opposition. That is why the EU Foreign Ministers adjusted the sanctions policy to ensure protective and other equipment can now be supplied to the opposition. But we shouldn’t just think in military terms. We also need to support the opposition in those areas where it has assumed control. I’m thinking here of support for healthcare and infrastructure projects.

Does protective and other equipment include body armour, armoured vehicles and night vision devices?

We are talking about non-lethal pieces of equipment. This includes above all defence equipment such as body armour. Mine detectors also spring to mind. It’s for the experts now to pan out the details.

There are reports in the media that EU states want to provide the rebels with military instructors and offer training in the use of weapons. Is this something Germany supports?

Neither Germany nor the European Union have any such plans. If individual EU countries were to plan something like that, they would talk to us and other partners.

Questions: Hans Monath and Antje Sirleschtov. Reproduced by kind permission of the Tagesspiegel.

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