“The forces pulling at Europe have never been so strong”

10.04.2013 - Interview

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Foreign Minister Westerwelle warns against Europe drifting apart. Other topics include North Korea, Syria, Iran, relations with Russia and the NSU trial.

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks about the current situation in North Korea and Syria, on the dispute with Iran over its nuclear programme, on relations with Russia, on Europe and Germany’s role in the European Union and on international interest in the NSU trial in Munich.Published on 10 April 2013


Minister, North Korea is making open threats about nuclear attacks.Is this just a lot of hot air from an immature leader?How serious is the situation?

The war rhetoric is itself a serious matter and exacerbates the situation on the Korean peninsula and in the entire region.

How great is the danger of escalation?

Even if we now don’t think that a real war is about to start, the actions of the government in Pyongyang are dangerous and completely unacceptable. I am therefore pleased to see that not only our partners in the West, but also other countries are dealing with the matter responsibly.

You mean China...

Peking is playing a constructive role. Nobody has an interest in an escalation of the situation. You can see that China is very concerned, too.

What is North Korea trying to accomplish?

Domestic politics probably plays a big role. We saw that in the beginning the new ruler showed signs of opening up the country. Perhaps that provoked reactions from certain forces that must now be mollified.

What should the case of Korea teach us about Iran?That a policy of containment is not advisable?

The situation in the two countries is very different. As for Iran, the talks in Almaty on its nuclear programme have demonstrated that there are still big differences of opinion, but still, there have never been such intensive discussions on the issues.

A year ago, prompt action seemed necessary. Now it seems that both sides are waiting for the elections in Iran.

It’s my impression that unfortunately there has been a lot of playing for time, but I still think that a diplomatic solution is possible. The elections in Iran are a factor, but not the only one. In terms of time, as well as in terms of substance, it is a question of building bridges to make a diplomatic solution possible.

Are we closer to a solution now than when you took office?

Only time will tell.

That does not sound very optimistic.

It is cautious. The question is threefold: Has there been a change of heart in Tehran? Has it also taken place in the most important parts of the regime? Finally, when is the right time for the regime to take the action that this entails? We will know after the elections at the latest. I encourage all parties, also those in the West, not to make those talks impossible by bringing up war scenarios.

You do not like the sentence “all options are on the table”?

It depends on who says it. If it is always said by the same people...

...the Americans...

...it sounds different than when those people say it who are otherwise more reserved.

You mean Israel.Iran plays an important role in the conflict in Syria as well.In the debate about supplying weapons, for example, you warned against Syria becoming the scene of a proxy war,but this has already happened: Tehran, Ankara, the Gulf States –all of them have been active in Syria for a long time.Washington has questioned the weapons embargo for this reason, and so have London and Paris.Weapons are going to be supplied in any case. Should we not now try to see that they go to the right groups?

We have to support moderate opposition forces. We do that in many ways. As for weapons, how can we be sure that they go to the right groups? History tells us that in the end these weapons will be pointed at us, at democratic forces. That is why I am cautious.

The result of that position is that al Qaida, or the al Nusra Front, is gaining ground in Syria. The embargo will expire at the end of May anyway, won’t it, because the EU will not agree on an extension?

We are discussing that right now. The package of sanctions was purposely limited to three months. Non lethal equipment can already be sent, by the way. I think it is worth considering that we provide defensive items, such as protective vests, for example. But I wonder if those who are in favour of supplying weapons can really answer the question of how we can make sure that the weapons reach the right groups and also stay in their possession?

Experts say that the longer the conflict lasts, the deeper the divisions become and the harder the period after the regime change will be.That means that the risks involved in supplying weapons should be accepted. The risks that come with waiting longer are greater, they say.

This argument is worth taking into consideration, but I think it is anything but certain that fewer people will die in Syria if more weapons are supplied. We have two goals. On the one hand, we want to support moderate opposition forces. On the other, we want to prevent a conflagration that could have a major impact on Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and even Israel. I worry that many Islamists think that Damascus is only a stopover on the way to Jerusalem.

How disappointed are you with Russia’s stance on the civil war in Syria?

Of course I am disappointed with Russia’s stance. Even with a view to Russia’s national interests, this is not a convincing position.

What do you think about our strategic partner Russia bullying German political foundations at home?

The recent events and the way that civil society is treated in Russia are depressing. For that reason it is important to put our policies on two pillars: unequivocal messages, but also offers of partnership. Change is only possible if we continue to move closer and open up. We have to keep the lines of communication open now; otherwise it could take years to reestablish them.

Even in Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

The treatment of civil society and especially of minorities in today’s Russia affects me not only as Foreign Minister, but also personally. Still, I think that the principle of aiming for change by continuing to move closer together is the right course.

Syria is only the most recent example of differences of opinion within the EU. Putting aside the dispute over Libya, France has pushed forward in Mali by itself.How do you see the current state of the common European foreign policy in comparison to the situation three and a half years ago?

European foreign policy has improved, even if not quite enough. Take the talks over Iran’s nuclear programme in which Europe plays a leading role, or the talks between Serbia and Kosovo mediated by Lady Ashton. The European External Action Service is just two years old. Did you expect national Foreign Ministries to become superfluous? That is not the goal and it would not be advisable. There are historical differences: Germany did not have thousands of its citizens in Mali, in contrast to France. And Germany, given its history, has a tradition of military restraint. That is not only part of my own political DNA; it is a living expression of Germany’s constitution.

Let’s stay in Europe. What do you find more disconcerting, the economic situation in France, the political stalemate in Italy, the effects of the decision by Portugal’s constitutional court or the crisis in Greece and Cyprus?

The real test for Europe will come in 2013. I am very concerned that apparently some people are trying to lead us back to the old habit of running up debts. [...] There are those in Europe who are just waiting for an end to the policy of fiscal consolidation. That would be exactly the wrong way to go.

What can be done to prevent northern and southern Europe from drifting apart?

I cannot remember a time when the forces pulling at Europe were so strong. I call on all parties not to shift the attention away from their own past mistakes and shortcomings by casting blame on Brussels or Berlin. I would also warn against calling the euro into question in Germany. Those who want to give up the euro would lose so much more than just a currency!

In Europe, many people expect Germany to take a leadership role.At the same time, Berlin is confronted with old resentments.How can the German Government get out of this dilemma?

The pictures of individual protesters with anti German slogans cannot be taken to represent the real mood in European countries. There is also much respect for the successful German model for a social market economy. Many Europeans wish to learn German these days. The branches of the Goethe Institut are experiencing unprecedented demand. Those who produce anti German noises should not be paid back in their own coin. [...] It is very important to me that Germany does not exert dominance, but shows leadership through the power of persuasion and by setting a good example. We do not only live in very challenging times, but also in a period that will shape Germany’s image in Europe and the world. It is also a problem when a presumably terrorist organization commits a series of murders over a period of years and, at the trial, it is supposed to be sufficient to grant national media adequate access to the proceedings, but not representatives of international media.

When you consider the near future, the next two or three years, how many member states do you see in the eurozone?More than we have today? Or fewer?

If we master the challenges of 2013, interest in the eurozone will grow again. We are more likely to have more and not fewer members.

Questions: Klaus Dieter Frankenberger und Majid Dattar.Reproduced by kind permission of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. All rights reserved. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH, Frankfurt. Made available by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Archiv.


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