Interview with Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle on the civil war in Syria and on European support for the opposition there. Published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, 22 March 2013.
Two years of civil war in Syria have claimed 70,000 lives to date. Was the catastrophe preventable?
Sometimes there is no simple and clear solution.
How is the Assad regime managing to hold out for so long?
As well as the support it receives from other countries, the complicated domestic situation is a major factor. Many people, especially those who do not belong to the Sunni majority, are afraid of what will follow. That is why it is so important for us to have a clear plan for the period after Assad. Alawis and Christians particularly are asking themselves in what situation they and their families will find themselves in one year. We have to acknowledge that jihadists, extremists and terrorists are also wreaking havoc in Syria.
Is that why you don’t want to allow deliveries of arms to the opposition under any circumstances?
I can understand the outrage when you see the misery and suffering in Syria. That is why we adapted the sanctions considerably with effect from 1 March. The EU is currently debating whether it would also make sense to organize direct arms supplies. Some see the urgent need to arm the opposition to strengthen their position. Others are concerned that these weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
Does it not prey on your conscience to see the opposition defenceless against the regime’s military superiority?
Both situations are troubling. It is troubling to see the opposition suffering. But equally troubling is the prospect of the crisis spreading and the risk of arms systems falling into the wrong hands. The focus on the military aspect is understandable, but it doesn’t go far enough. For example, we must strengthen the population’s support for the moderate forces. That is only possible if progress is made in the areas controlled by the opposition, for example with water, electricity and medical care.
But it is still possible that Germany could agree to arms supplies?
We are sceptical and weighing up the options. However, at the same time we know that we must be prepared to change our policy if the situation alters.
Questions: Stefan Braun and Daniel Brössler. Reproduced by kind permission of the Süddeutsche Zeitung.